“…And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says: And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18: 6-8
In my first week of organizing, I followed Rev. Jeff Krehbiel down a dark and chaotic block—horns blaring from speeding cars & shouts from drug dealers for offers to buy— to the home of Jenny Bernadel, a member of West Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE. I had recently been assigned to work with Rev. Krehbiel and other religious and community leaders to build an IAF organization in Wilmington. Rev. Krehbiel asked me to visit Ms. Bernadel, a Jamaican-American member of his church, who lived in the most well kept home on her otherwise blighted Eastside Wilmington block.
Ms. Bernadel was afraid to leave her house after coming home from work to go to Bible study. Police, she said, never patrolled in her neighborhood and the local recreation center was closed so the teenagers had nothing to do, except harass people. Ms. Bernadel was angry and distraught as she spoke; she didn’t know what to do. Rev. Krehbiel took her hand and asked “who else in the neighborhood do you know that feels the way you do?” The next week we returned to Ms. Bernadel’s house and met with 5 of her neighbors, launching a year long organizing drive for community policing and youth investment.
The campaign culminated in a showdown with then Senator Joseph Biden about the misappropriation of Federal Community Policing funding by the Wilmington Police Department— instead of deploying beat cops to patrol Ms. Bernadel’s and other Wilmington neighborhoods, the department bought armored trucks and other heavy weaponry.
Rev. Krehbiel challenged Senator Biden in an early morning meeting with other IAF leaders at Bethel AME as he started to defend the police department. “Senator, we want the $10 million in Community Policing monies in Wilmington to be used for officers to walk a beat in Ms. Bernadel’s neighborhood and we are going public with our demand in two weeks.” Senator Biden’s face turned red and the vein on the side of his head started pulsing….. he was speechless…with rage. He left almost immediately after this confrontation, making no commitments.
At a packed IAF action with 500 leaders at Bethel Apostolic Temple two weeks afterward in the pouring rain, Wilmington’s Mayor and Police Chief announced the reassignment of officers to Wilmington’s neighborhoods and monies to expand recreation opportunities at an Eastside Boys and Girls Club. Ms. Bernadel never missed a West Presbyterian Bible Study after that. She told me later it was the first time a pastor had visited her home.
Rev. Jeff Krehbiel practiced ministry on the ground: in homes, neighborhoods, homeless shelters, recreation centers, churches, and taverns. IAF organizing formed Jeff. In turn through song, conversation, worship, faith, anger and persistence, he formed us: young adults, cities, congregations, politicians, neighborhoods, denominations, senators and a vice president, and organizers.
Jeff led the drive for the next generation of Presbyterian Clergy to take up community organizing; now it is a growing movement in the denomination through Next Church. His mentor: the Rev. George Todd would be proud. Jeff reorganized West Presbyterian and Church of the Pilgrims, into vital congregations using the practices of IAF relational organizing. Working with other leaders at Washington Interfaith Network, Jeff helped lead the renaissance of DC neighborhoods with more
affordable housing, renovated libraries and recreation centers, and green jobs. He helped transform
DC’s corrupt and evil homeless service system from warehousing families to providing permanent supportive housing. For Jeff, faith and organizing were symbiotic.
Over 20 years, I organized with Jeff in Wilmington and Washington DC, a witness to and beneficiary of his faith in the transforming power of organizing for ordinary people, for the church, and for the world.
“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Without question: in the ministry of formation and persistence of Rev. Jeffrey Krehbiel.
——Martin Trimble, Metro IAF Supervising Organizer MD,DC, VA, NC