Carbondale city leaders appear to be taking the wording of Proverbs 15:22 to heart. The passage, from the Bible’s Old Testament, says “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (NIV),” and for more than a year, the city’s mayor is turning to religious leaders in the community for input and advice.
Called the Community of Faith Advisory Council to the Mayor, more than two dozen pastors and heads of other houses of worship are meeting regularly with Carbondale Mayor John “Mike” Henry and City Manager Gary Williams.
“Mostly we are listening,” Henry said. “This is a way for us to find out what the issues are that people in their churches and faith communities are concerned with, what they are wanting and needing, then seeing if there is a way for city government to help make things better.”
Henry said the regular gatherings started with just a few pastors whose churches are located in northeast Carbondale. Soon the group had grown to more than 10 pastors and now nearly 30 from all faiths and all parts of the community are participating. He said the group is diverse in terms of race, location, faith and church size.
“I always thought it would be good to have advice from people of faith throughout the community and try to get the leaders of all of the different faiths in Carbondale together,” Henry said. “These leaders are close to lots of people in their faith communities and throughout the city.”
The mayor said, so far, the group has organized a communitywide event held at Attucks Park and is working toward establishing computer labs throughout the community which will give residents free access to software and the Internet for education, job hunting and other needs. Another benefit of the gatherings which are held at the Carbondale Civic Center is to begin dialogue.
“We’re seeing things happen and seeing pastors come together across denominational affiliations, race, gender and more,” said Christopher Swims, senior pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church. Swims was among the first pastors to begin attending the regular meetings.
“I have loved this idea from the very beginning. It’s so nice to hear that the city wants two work with churches. We’re all looking at what we can do together,” he said.
Henry said that the meetings are building a sense of community, which was evident following a shooting near the Eurma Hayes Center.
“We had six of the pastors come in and we talked with them the next day,” Henry said. “We showed them our press release, we showed them the states attorney’s press release, briefed them on what had happened and where we were with the investigation and invited them to attend the press conference with us. All six of them did.”
He said he hopes the spirit of unity and cooperation continues, adding that the members of the advisory council serve as sort of liaisons from the city out to the community and from the members of congregations in Carbondale to the city government. Swims agrees.
“I tell the pastors that we have to remind ourselves that since we have the ear of the city and can see their hearts, this is our chance to work together,” he said. “For the city to be so willing to help — not just with words, but through follow-up action — I love it.”
Both Henry and Swims say they want the group to not only continue to meet and share, but to find solutions.
“We’re going to continue building community and hearing different perspectives,” Swims said. “It’s all very good.”