Pastor Greg Holder has a longtime passion for finding unity. But in 2014, when a tragic shooting became a national controversy just across town in Ferguson, Missouri, he and his church family had to put their beliefs into action.

“We were able to basically convene groups of people together – and I’m talking now before the grand jury announcement – so this is really in real time. We brought together by just invitation, off the radar – media were not allowed to be there – and we met in the fellowship hall of one of the churches.”

Pastor Greg remembers the scene as being unlike anything he’s experienced.

“There wasn’t a lot of fellowship in that fellowship hall. There were a lot of words that frankly I’m not sure had ever been said in that room before, because we got people there who really were across the spectrum.”

“I have a friend in Baltimore, we worked together a lot on some of these race relation issues, David Anderson. And I said, David, will you come as an African-American pastor? Will you come and stand with me, and let’s enter into this.”

“So we invited pastors, educators, community leaders, mayors, police chiefs. And to be honest with you, while these protests were happening on the streets, that was the only time all of these groups had ever been in a room together. It was quite a sight to behold.”

They found there that something as simple as being at the same table in the same room was actually quite transforming.

“If I look at someone way far off, I can see them as somebody that I just don’t agree with – their political stance, their reaction. But the truth is when we’re sitting across the table from each other, now all of sudden we’re actually people. You are somebody for whom Christ died. And so we begin to have this conversation.”

It wasn’t as if all the pain and the anger melted away that day, but it was the beginning of something powerful.

“This is where the protesters and leaders in the police agreed to actually begin to share things with each other. All of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, you do that? That’s horrible! Don’t do that.’ Then somebody else would say, ‘But you do understand that I have a job to do? That I have a  a wife and kids, and when you threaten and you say those things you’re saying that to my kids?’ And light bulbs began to go up around the room.”

Then came the grand jury’s verdict.

“The truth is that our no matter what you saw in the media – there was definitely an outcry, there was definitely an outbreak of violence – but there were no lives lost.”

“I can tell you behind the scenes there were people, there were police officers and protesters that actually said when all this starts to go down, and it will, can we reconnect with each other? Because I want you to be out of harm’s way, to let you know when something’s going to happen so that you can help us in this area. That was the most extraordinary thing that happened, because people basically could talk to each other now.”

Pastor Greg Holder leads The Crossing church in St. Louis, Missouri. His latest book is .

On the Road with Greg Holder