Believing deeply in the power of relationships, Rev. Karen Hernandez-Granzen has built partnerships across religious, social, political, and economic lines. When the 2017 travel ban was announced, and she was asked to help organize a rally within a week, she called upon those relationships. The result? More than 200 attended, including Muslim, Jewish, and Evangelical organizers, and LGBTQIA+ activists.
Hernandez-Granzen began building partnerships in 1995 after being named pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church (WPC) in a multicultural community in Trenton, New Jersey. Westminster’s membership was 98 percent Eurocentric, middle-to-upper-middle class and more focused on its internal community than on its neighbors or neighborhood, although in the late 1980s and early 1990s WPC was one of 18 churches and civic organizations in Trenton involved in community organizing under the direction of the United Mercer Interfaith Organization which she helped found.
Today, Westminster has a congregation that reflects its community. Membership on the rolls is 59 percent African American, 26 percent Euro American, 15 percent Latino and other ethnic groups. Services are now reflective of the multicultural community that WPC serves and include a variety of worship styles.
Hernandez-Granzen led the church through a radical reconciliation process, bringing powerful healing and forward progress toward justice and equality for all people. She continued to use the community organizing approach that was rooted in Saul Alinsky’s tradition. In his book Rules for Radicals, Alinsky says, “A word about my personal philosophy. It is anchored in optimism. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, a will to fight for a better world.”
The church worked in solidarity with its neighbors to address real issues and concerns both in its immediate neighborhood and in the city of Trenton. WPC now serves students through its award-winning Get SET After School Program, offers ESL classes to adults, and has many community-based events throughout the year.
Hernandez-Granzen was honored by the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which named her a “Woman of Faith” in 2018 for her transformational leadership that led to the radical reconciliation of Westminster Presbyterian Church, and for her work toward justice and equality for all people.
The PC (USA) award recognizes women “for their work for transformative change and their effort to end racism and injustice.” Hernandez-Granzen, a member of Princeton Theological Seminary’s Urban Ministry Initiative cabinet, says the award is about “being woke.”
In addition to church leadership, Hernandez-Granzen serves on the Trenton Latino Advisory Council, the Princeton Civil Rights Commission, is the chaplain for the Bethany House of Hospitality: A Young Adult Intentional Living Community, and is the co-chair of United Mercer Interfaith Organization. She lives the optimism and hope Saul Alinsky describes in his book. In honoring her, the PC (USA) lifts up her shared leadership, as well as the incredible efforts and hope for the communities she serves.