"We had come together as Seventh-day Adventists to preach about restoration and justice and unity," noted Wisconsin Zachary Payne, "but we weren’t alone. There were tons of groups removing graffiti, painting window boards, praying, handing out water bottles, cleaning up, sifting through the wreckage, and preaching the Gospel via bullhorn. | photo credit: Ron Whitehead
Everyone knows you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone in order to make a difference. However, what has the year 2020 been, if not a literal and complete dismantling of the entire concept of “comfort zone”? At this point in the year, WISEN churches are finally all meeting for in-person worship services and we’ve been slowly re-implementing aspects of Sabbath morning. In all honesty, these churches have so graciously put up with and supported my improvising and innovating over the past several months...while I’m usually harping about getting out of our comfort zone, I now feel like they have been troopers and deserve a little comfort. So, I’ve been working with our church boards to get them back to a sense of normalcy--as much as is possible right now.
However, last week was anything but normal in Southeastern Wisconsin. Death and destruction, injustice and intolerance: these evils plagued our city of Kenosha. I felt moved that we had to do something different. Everything is different right now, so I wondered what “different” even looked like. I wondered if different would be appreciated or supported or understood. But I felt burdened so strongly to meet this crisis head on, rather than shy away from it. Finally, I made the announcement: “I’m calling an audible. We’re closing our churches this Sabbath.” Over the next couple of days, I couldn’t believe the support that came in.
Church members and leaders started telling me about local projects that needed to be done. They called the city to get permission to meet in the park. They called the newspaper to get local coverage. They bought the food and the supplies. They solicited and obtained donations from local businesses. Folks who aren’t members of our church led our effort to feed volunteers and even provided sound equipment. All that to say: while I took the first step, God moved the church members and community to take the idea and run with it.
We all arrived around 9:30 a.m. and the service began at 10:00 a.m. We begun with a violin solo of “The Old Rugged Cross” by Racine Church member Auden RovelleQuartz. Then our local Kenosha Church Pastor, George Andrews III delivered some opening remarks and a prayer. Racine Church Elder, Patricia Antoine-Norton and I led the congregation in singing “We Are One in the Spirit.” Then I preached a short message about how Jesus woke up during a storm to say “be still!” and He has called us to do the same during this time--to say “be still” to the racism, injustice, destruction, and all around lawlessness in our city, and about how we get to be a part of God’s restorative work in Kenosha. From there I led the congregation in singing “See a Victory” and Pastor Eric Chavez, our Wisconsin Conference Youth Director, closed in prayer.
Then, the congregation split into two groups. One went to uptown to pray with those affected by some of the worst destruction and violence, and to help with cleanup where needed. The other group went down to 28th Avenue and 40th Street, to clean up the neighborhood of Jacob Blake’s family, not far from where he was brutally shot by a police officer seven times.
One of the most overwhelming aspects of the day was how many other groups were out and about, looking to serve. We had come together as Seventh-day Adventists to preach about restoration and justice and unity, but we weren’t alone. There were tons of groups removing graffiti, painting window boards, praying, handing out water bottles, cleaning up, sifting through the wreckage, and preaching the Gospel via bullhorn.
After a couple of hours of being in the community, our volunteers came back to Library Park where the Frantz and Hayhoe families of the Raymond Church, as well as Nino and Alicia Sauceda (of Local Racine business 911 Tacos) served walking haystacks to all of our volunteers, as well as anyone else who ventured by. We handed out lots more water, fruit, and snacks, as well as Christian literature.
The message for unity was evident in the entire organization of the day. We had folks from all of the local WISEN churches (Kenosha, Racine, Raymond) in attendance, as well as from out of town (Milwaukee, Waukesha). We had representatives from our Wisconsin Conference, Eric and Shanna Chavez and Brian Stephan, come to help and support, as well as Ron Whitehead from the Lake Union Conference. Aside from people coming together from various areas, it was a celebration of unity in diversity, as our area is very multicultural. All of this added to the feeling that, by God’s grace, we can overcome the division that has come upon our city and our country and unite in love and in mission for Christ’s Kingdom.
The work isn’t done, but Sabbath was a good start. A small group came back to paint some more on Sunday morning. We’re providing everyone with information about fundraisers so they can continue to give to Jacob Blake and all of the affected people in Kenosha. We realize that this can’t be a one time thing, and we’re looking into ways to make this kind of service project more of a regular practice in our churches. Whether that is a quarterly “Service Sabbath” like this past weekend, or whether it means keeping an intentional finger on the pulse of our communities so that we can anticipate their needs as they arise--we’re not sure quite how it will look. But I do believe that there was a great deal of pride among everyone who attended, that they were able to show up and make a difference in their community for Jesus.
So the trend of “no comfort zone” in 2020 lives on. However, it’s not all bad. In fact, at least in our churches, there may be more long-term good that we end up gleaning from our discomfort this year than we realize. As one storefront painting read this weekend: “difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”
Zachary Payne pastors the WISEN (Wisconsin Southeast Network), comprising Racine and Kenosha counties. During the early days of the state lockdown, Payne and two other area pastors, Sheldon Bryan and Myoung Kwon, took a regional approach to online ministry and started the Greater Milwaukee Adventist Fellowship Facebook group where they had twice daily devotional talks for 11 weeks. Zack is passionate about bringing the church into the 21st century, and creating healthy, sustainable congregations.