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Lessons from Minneapolis

Have the tough conversations, listen deeply, practice active empathy.

It’s a matter of perspective.

Jazz Hampton knows white people and people of color probably see George Floyd’s death differently.

Hampton is a member of Corner Church’s North Loop community in Minneapolis. He’s a husband, a dad, and a lawyer who speaks in a soft tone as he describes his feelings after watching a video of a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Four former Minneapolis police officers face charges in the death.

Hampton, whose father is black and mother is white, didn’t find Floyd’s killing surprising.

“People of color saw that as another instance of poor interaction with police officers, where a lot of others, particularly non-black people, saw that as a surprise and an outlandish instance,” Hampton says.

Hampton’s white mother-in-law told him she could see how such a situation could scare or make him apprehensive when he sees a police officer. But Hampton says the incident didn’t change his fear.

“That was already in place for last 28 years of my life,” Hampton says during a video conversation with Corner Church pastor Scott S. Woller.


Woller and pastors of other Corner Church communities say it’s time for Christians to have such conversations.

But it doesn’t stop there. Christians must take up a call to action to serve their neighbors.

“This is a clear picture that being silent or being passive, just saying ‘Wow, I’m really concerned about this and I’ll pray about it’ — but not taking any verbal or physical or emotional or spiritual action — is no longer an option,” Woller says.

Fifteen years ago, Woller, now 43, and his wife, Amber, planted Corner Church in Minneapolis, seeking to redefine what it is to be a follower of Christ in communities that don’t necessarily have favorable views of Church or Christians. The locations are designed to be within walking distance of residents in the city’s urban-dense neighborhoods.

There are three church communities — North Loop, Uptown, and Camden — which meet in neighborhood coffeehouses on Sundays. The rest of the week, the shops serve coffee to hundreds of customers.

Like elsewhere in the nation, COVID-19 kept patrons from frequenting the coffee shops because of government gathering restrictions.

“As soon as we stopped being able to have people in our coffee shops we had to furlough the majority of barista staff, which was very difficult,” says pastor Greg J. Barber, 31, of the Uptown community.

Protests followed Floyd’s death, prompting coffeehouse windows to be boarded up. However, after protests turned into rioting, looters broke into the Camden location.

“I cannot compare to being black at this moment, bringing out the reality that my whole life I’ve been fearful of the police, but for us personally it’s definitely been a more-difficult-than-normal season,” Barber says. “Our church hasn’t been able to meet in person for months.”

Yet Woller says being a follower of Christ hasn’t changed by an inability to gather on Sundays.

“The thing that hampers discipleship is passiveness,” Woller says. “Having riots in your city is really heavy and hard, but there is incredible hope as the body of Christ.”

Woller says communities have been discipling and caring for each other.

“There are lots of hardships, but the picture of hope for humanity, hope for change, resolve to do things, is alive and probably better than ever,” Woller says.

Barber sees the power that comes from partnerships, whether cross-denominational or even across theological lines.

“Churches that are delivering food to areas in our cities that need it, delivering to mosques,” Barber says. “They’re partnering with people who are typically much different than them.”

Woller believes this moment should push citizens to know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

“We should be encouraged — not just Christians, but as people — to really deeply understand the experience of others,” Woller says.

That means having awkward and uncomfortable conversations.

“There’s a lot of grace when you ask the questions and delve into what people see and experience,” Woller says. “There is very little grace for It must be hard and then being quiet. People have got to step out of their comfort zone and not just have empty empathy, but rather active empathy.”

Barber stresses the importance of reaching out to people of color. He encourages white Christians to ask their black friends and acquaintances questions such as How are you doing? How are you feeling? What can I do to serve you?

Hampton encourages individuals to learn more about the black experience in their local areas. He knows some whites worry about saying something wrong.

“If you care enough about me to get my advice, then I know anything you say that might not be the right thing or may be offhand is not a reflection of your character,” Hampton says. “The reflection of your character is your willingness to come and have the conversation.”

Barber tells of a conversation he had with a black friend who said she’d spent her life obtaining educational degrees and securing good jobs, trying to live a certain way so others would see her value. But no matter what she’s done, in the eyes of some it isn’t enough.

“How do I see that they have value, that they matter?” Barber asks. “And through changing myself I hope we can start changing each other, and through each other, we can change a system that is clearly broken.”

Zach D. Yerrick, 31, pastor of the Camden community, also urges Christians to change their behavior, as the Book of James exhorts.

“Real empathy drives us to act,” Yerrick says.


Lead Photo: The Corner Church meeting places in Minneapolis function as coffee shops during the week.

Bottom Photo: Zach Yerrick (left), Scott Woller (center) and Greg Barber know the importance of having tough conversations and practicing active empathy. 

Tammy Real McKeighan

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska, where she has worked since 1981. She is a member of Full Life Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Fremont. She has two sons, Michael and Zachary.