By Ann Miller Andrus
When pastor Dave Whitten of West Richmond (Va.) Church of the Brethren joined the Henrico Minister’s Conference (HMC) in 2021, he was seeking an opportunity to work with other local pastors to promote social justice and help meet immediate community needs in Henrico County.
The conference, with its goal of “Unity in the Community,” met Whitten’s objective. HMC’s member churches are of several denominations as well as nondenominational, are of varying sizes, and with diverse congregations. Some of HMC’s past projects to address community needs included the delivery of donated socks and underwear to people in jail, collecting and distributing food to families in need, and making donated classroom supplies or hats and gloves available to students in Henrico’s public schools.
To support Whitten’s interest in HMC and its work in the county, the church approved funding for the group in its 2022 church budget. The Witness Commission then expressed an interest in assisting the organization’s work beyond a simple financial gift. When Whitten asked the commission about participating in HMC’s recent project to donate books to some of the county’s school libraries, the members readily agreed and invited the congregation to contribute to the book drive.
HMC’s list of 24 suggested books with African American and multicultural themes for students in grades K-5 was circulated to the church membership. Books on the list included titles such as Hair Love, Black Is a Rainbow Color, and Your Name Is a Song, as well as I Believe I Can, I Am Every Good Thing, and Where Are You From? Like HMC, Whitten and the Witness Commission viewed the project as one that would accomplish two important purposes: expand the diversity of offerings in school libraries and promote an interest in reading among young students.
The congregation’s response to the request for books was heartwarming and overwhelming. Books with bright covers and attractive illustrations began to stack up in the pastor’s office. Church members, former members, and friends contributed to the book drive. Before the books were taken to HMC for delivery to schools during Black History Month, a label was placed inside each one identifying it as a gift from West Richmond Church of the Brethren.
On Sunday, Jan. 30, more than 65 beautiful new books were displayed at the front of the sanctuary. Whitten expressed appreciation for the generous response and the support for county students shown by the donations. He then offered a prayer of blessing that the books would inspire both students and teachers in meaningful ways.
Our congregation is pleased to have partnered with HMC on their literacy project. The congregation knows that because of this effort some county school libraries now include a greater number of books that explore and celebrate the experiences of a broader range of the school-age population living in Henrico County.
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