A new level of communication and cooperation between the City of Fresno and its faith community began June 12 at Fresno Pacific University.

Through the convening initiative of FPU’s Center for Community Transformation, Mayor Lee Brand called nearly 150 leaders from many faith traditions together in Shehadey Dining Hall on the main FPU campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno, for the first meeting of the Mayor’s Faith Based Partnership Council. On the agenda were neighborhood revitalization, homelessness, human trafficking and the marijuana issue. Other speakers included Randy White, D.Min., executive director of CCT, part of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary; Phil Skei, co-pastor at On Ramps Covenant Church and neighborhood revitalization manager for the city; and H Spees, director of strategic initiatives, office of the mayor.

Participants worked together at tables and took time to speak with officials to provide pragmatic suggestions on the topics presented. The idea is to give the mayor collective wisdom as he seeks the well-being of the city, according to White. “This is the best of faith in the public square,” he said. 

The council is the offspring of the Mayor’s Faith Based Partnership Cabinet, made up of 24 inter-faith leaders. The council will meet annually, but will have other chances to share perspective with Brand as well on issues of concern or opportunity. A final report on participants’ findings will be delivered to the mayor.

Brand created the council and cabinet because Fresno faces issues that can only be solved in partnership with faith communities, which can serve people at a personal and specialized level. “The mayor seeks broad engagement with the wisdom and perspectives of faith leaders,” White said. “Especially in areas where the expertise, the love, the knowledge and skill-sets, and the resources of the faith community are required in order to achieve results.”

Spees praised the turnout and the process of the meeting. “The fact that you were able to gather public policy input from virtually every leader present while still signing them up for action-oriented solutions was remarkable,” he wrote in an email to CCT. “We look forward to the final report of the convening. In the meantime, thank you from a grateful City and Mayor who knows the limits of government and the importance of tapping the wisdom, insight and person power of the faith community.”

Participant Rhonda Dueck, associate pastor of North Fresno Church-Mennonite Brethren and director of its Micah Project urban ministry, stated she went from skeptical to impressed over the course of the 90-minute event. “Great use of time hearing from multiple people who were focused and well prepared, meeting new people and talking at our tables, writing down responses. I left there feeling like I learned some things about what is happening and challenges in our city, met some faith leaders I have never met before, was challenged to problem-solve, felt like my voice was valued and left encouraged at the possibilities of what can happen in Fresno when love and collaboration are central,” she wrote.

PHOTO: Fresno Mayor Lee Brand (center) chats with his table group, including Randy White (left) and H Spees (right).