In this month’s Collaborative Voices, we talked to Rev. Michael Gonzales and Robin Gonzales the pastor and first lady of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. St. James is the oldest African American congregation in Minnesota and is considered the mother church of the AME congregations in the state. The Gonzales’ talk about the congregation and its role in the Collaborative.
St. James has been around for 155 years. Can you tell me a little of their history in issues of social justice?
St. James dates back to the 1860s when the first prayer meeting took place at the home of the founder of St. James, Paul Brown. The members of St. James had to move often until they could afford a stable and permanent location. The place where we currently worship is over sixty years old.
Considering St James primarily has an African American congregation, its members have suffered the ills that plague most African American communities and churches, such as racism, incarceration, abuse, homelessness, lack of food, healthcare, and education opportunities.
How has race impacted housing?
Faith tells us that justice is obtainable. We have to believe that God has us in his hands. Race has impacted housing for many, many years. There are still neighborhoods where “we” are not welcomed.
We know that systemic racism causes housing inequities. In seeking to understand and embrace the journey towards equity, what insight can St. James provide around the connection between affordable housing and racial justice?
We understand from a simplistic standpoint affordable housing can place children in a stable environment and community which determines the education they receive which can determine the path their lives can take.
African Americans have been denied housing leaving them with no equity, being defined as what is needed to be successful. Organizations, primarily white organizations, focus on equality which emphasizes fairness. Equality can only work if all parties start out from the same place. African Americans have never started from the same place as their white counterparts.
Housing is the core of survival and dignity. Dignity brings hope for the future.
What made the congregation want to be a part of Beacon? How do you participate?
Homelessness is a big concern for some of the members of the church who may have loved ones who are struggling to find affordable housing. The congregation signs petitions… sent postcards, attended rallies and spoke with legislators.
How has the congregation been impacted since joining? What about housing issues did you not know before joining Beacon?
It has given the congregation a VOICE. Someone is listening. What we have learned is how the government feels, supports and determines the outcome of the lives of homeless people.
Since St. James is the mother church of AME churches in the area, how do you think St. James has influenced the other churches on issues such as homelessness and housing?
The other churches are aware of our participation and have joined Beacon as well.
What events and experiences connected with Beacon have been most memorable to you and your church? What upcoming events are you most looking forward to you?
The rallies and the convening sessions.
What would you say to another congregation considering joining the Collaborative?
DO IT! Through the collaboration there is power.
In 2018, St. James’ current building was designated a historic landmark by the city of Minneapolis. Built in 1959, it is the only building left standing that the congregation constructed and the building used the longest as their place of worship.