“Today, local churches feed the hungry, have prison ministries, AIDS ministries and do so many things that were not part of the traditional black church during King’s time,” Richardson said, “and these things were inspired by the civil rights movement. “
Richardson said the role of the pastor is more complex today because congregations have different expectations. “People want to see the application of faith to all aspects of life,” he said. “They want to know, ‘When I go to church, how will it impact my life, not just my personal devotional, but everything? How does it impact poverty, racism? How does it impact social injustice?’ ”
Grier said his primary focus, as a pastor, is on his church’s members. Social justice issues and politics are important, he said, but it all starts with the individual.
“People are the most important components in this ministry,” Grier said in an interview. “In everything thing that we do, we emphasize the point that people matter. My job as a pastor is not just to help you die right, but to help you live right. How do you have a marriage that survives ? How do you survive depression?”
Grace Church has nearly 60 ministries. There are programs for young men and young women, for married couples and people in need of food and clothing. There is a also a facility for young people called the Dumfries Youth Center.
Ronald Watkins, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and his wife, Renea, are elders of Grace Church, and they lead a marriage-mentoring course. “Our focus is turned toward families and building relationships,” Renea Watkins said.
Grier said that the church is broken down geographically into “care groups” and that everyone is assigned to a care group, because of the importance of fostering strong relationships. “Television, radio is not the main thing,” he said. “The main thing is for us to love and serve one another and help people make meaningful connections.”
The congregation’s care group ministry is headed by Deacon Andre Milton and his wife, Deaconess Teri Milton. The couple first came to Grace in 2004, and at the time, they had no plans to join the church. “We came from a previous church. I was so wounded from my previous experience, I just wanted to come to church, hear the word and leave,” Andre Milton said.
He said Grier and his wife, Yeromitou Grier, are “genuine, real people,” who can relate to the struggles of working families in Northern Virginia.
As to why he has tried to separate himself from traditional denominations, Grier said: “My greatest sadness is a lack of leadership. We need servant leaders. We served God by serving other people. In the African American community, we are married to political parties, married to traditions. We keep doing the same thing and getting the same results.”