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Women of Influence: Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom Grier

Written by Ann Byle on . Posted in Local

DGrierJob Title: Lead Pastor, Pastor of Embracing at Maple Avenue Ministries in Holland

Calling: To be a prophetic voice and a missionary to the Church

Denise Grier has many titles. She's called lead pastor, prophet, mission liaison, mom, foster mom, board member, Mama D, and Big Mama. She happily embraces each one, stepping into her many roles that allow her to reach into the church, community, and individual lives.

"My prophetic role in the Holland community has been key to bringing in like-minded partners around the church," said Grier. "And I get to pastor the greatest people in the world. I'm so grateful God trusts me and gives me innovation and inspiration in my roles."

Grier spent her first five years in foster care, a time she remembers as abusive and traumatic on many levels, before being adopted at age seven with her brother. She grew up in New York City, but moved to North Carolina while in high school. There she "connected to a church and gravitated to the God who loves me," she said. She asked herself, "How are you going to live your life according to how God has designed you?'"

She majored in social work at Shaw University, the oldest HBCU (Historical Black Colleges and Universities) in the South, and "prayed to help people just like me." Post-college she worked with developmentally disabled children and then as supervisor for a 30-bed short-term transition home for house-less families.


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After reconnecting with a college friend who would become her husband, they moved to West Michigan, where he was minister of music at Maple Grove. Grier worked at Bethany Christian Services in Holland and ended up getting licensed for foster care. She attended Western Theological Seminary and had two children during that time.

Altogether, with their two children now ages 16 and 19, the Griers raised 16 children, 14 through the foster care system and who often came to them as teenagers. "They called me Mama D, and they are all now in their 20s and 30s," she said.

Now, this mother to so many has the title Big Mama, a name she is honored to carry.

"Big Mama is a critical role. She tells you the truth, goes to battle for you, and if you're wrong she'll let you know," said Grier.

Another of her key roles is as mission liaison through the RCA (Reformed Church of America) to Setshabelo Family & Child Services in the Botshabelo region of South Africa. Grier, along with Bethany Christian Services, seeks to help the 30,000 orphans and 15,500 vulnerable children in danger in the country.

"My role is the connective tissue between South Africa and the church here in North America, inviting partners and friends to participate with South Africa through prayer, purse, and presence," said Grier, who has been to South Africa five or six times since 2019.

This woman in a church leadership role speaks to women who feel called to a similar place. She says, "Bring yourself to it. Too often I see women trying to mimic or mirror men or other women in these roles, but everybody doesn't lead like Deborah or Zipporah or Mary. God called you! You dishonor God's gifting when you try to be somebody else."

Grier adds, "My being clear about my sense of calling allowed me to enter into the task God called me to. Who are you as the woman of God he has called? Pay attention to who you are."
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Author Information
Ann Byle
Ann Byle is a freelance writer and owner of AB Writing Services. She writes for a number of publications including WMCN, Publishers Weekly, CBA Christian Market and Grand Rapids Magazine, and is author or coauthor of several books including The Baker Book House Story, The Call to Care: A Compassionate Response to Caring for Vulnerable Children (2018) and Christian Publishing 101 (2018). She and her husband Ray, a science teacher, have four young adult children.

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