Pastor Grubb: Noteworthy Leadership, Small Church, Mighty Contribution
Pastor Profile

Pastor Grubb: Noteworthy Leadership, Small Church, Mighty Contribution

Pastor Grubb rolls up his sleeves and does the work. Photos: Anthony Artis.

For a mid-September Tuesday afternoon, the weather was still warm. I was on Atlantic Avenue heading towards Eastern Parkway and wasn’t sure when I’d stumble upon the church.

There was no visible sign: an awning or church van, but a tall man stood across the street, near the corner of one of Brooklyn’s busiest intersections. He was the only person on the sidewalk and his demeanor was characteristic of someone who was expecting a guest. I waved, assuming it was Pastor Vivian Grubb, waiting for me outside. He smiled back, and I crossed the street, watching him utter my name with glee.

Pastor Grubb was dressed in a black hoodie that reads “1619” in white letters, black joggers, and comfortable-looking sneakers. I took note of his outfit because in previous Google searches, he wore a suit. But of course, Pastors are everyday people. It was in this vain, I followed Pastor Grubb down a bright hallway into a large, open space. I noticed sheetrock leaning against the wall, construction materials, and two folding chairs at a makeshift table. Long papers covered the table like a tablecloth.

I realized these were construction blueprints. The blueprints to a new sanctuary. Seeing the designs felt like a piece to a puzzle; they made me wonder about the full picture of Pastor Grubb’s life and his deep-seated commitment to serving his community.

“I pastor a church that I’ve been going to since I was five years old.”: With this statement, Pastor Grubb made it clear that he was no stranger to Faith Forward, once called True Holy Church. He grew up in the church when its doors were located on 1981 Fulton Street in Brooklyn and his father was an Assistant Pastor. As a young teen Grubb remembers the congregation being multigenerational, with many young people. At 17, he and his peers decided to make what he says “a commitment to faith”; that is, accepting God to be their savior. Doing so “fell in line with what I already sensed within myself,” he recalled. Pastor Grubb knew he would be a preacher because of his ability to understand passages in the bible. Although he recognized his gift, he still didn’t know exactly what God wanted him to do with his life. Like anyone who is trying to figure out one’s purpose, he dabbled in different things. Pastor Grubb “ran the gamut,” serving as an usher, musician, and national youth leader. But it was one particular year that proved to be a pivotal moment in Grubb’s understanding of God’s calling for his life.

As the saying goes, “Just do it.”

That year was 2001 when a terrorist attack on New York City and other locations in the U.S. upended his life—just as it did the lives of most Americans. “ 9/11 was a turning point in my life because I almost died,” he said. He was working on Wall Street as a senior accountant for a well-known brokerage, located in the World Trade Center. “On my way to work that morning, if I’d looked up I would have seen the plane hit the building because I was underneath it,” he added. For Pastor Grubb, this near-death experience made him more sensitive to God’s will.

After the attacks, Pastor Grubb lost his job of 13 years. The market fell and being the “last ones in, first ones out,” for Merill-Lynch (they bought his employer Herzog, Heine, and Geduld, Inc.), his keycard didn’t work; neither did keycards of 30,000 employees. Despite unemployment, Pastor Grubb said the job “was a blessing from God, but it had an expiration date.” A date he kept extending because of the paycheck, the new house, and his young family. Adding insult to injury, he also contracted Meningitis and does not know how he ever did. This sickness, coupled with the loss of his job, left him not knowing what to do. He was unemployed from 2001-2005. One could look at Pastor Grubb’s life and say he had everything going for him, the American Dream and to be cut short from that because of unforeseen circumstances is unfortunate. However, Pastor Grubb’s attitude spoke volumes to how big his faith in God was. He noted that God still gave him “wisdom and provision.” He had savings, continued working as a national youth leader for United Church of Jesus Christ Organization, and began working on Faith Forward’s first construction project – turning it from a former Sand-paper Mill Factory to a building up to code.

It wasn’t until 2005 when Pastor Grubb found another job, as a pastor in the prison ministry with the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). By 2010, Grubb was called to lead Faith Forward as the senior pastor. His call was identifiable by the second Pastor Harry T. Nance (1978-2005), and now he is the third. The first Pastor (1952-1978) was Sally Steele who also founded the church. Pastor Grubb said “there’s nothing more beautiful as a pastor than to hear someone who is so senior to you call you pastor and honor you.”

Pastor Grubb’s leadership also teaches an important lesson to not be afraid of being unconventional during times of adversity. I finally asked him why a pastor would partner with real estate developers as he had done. He paused and I got a strong sense that everything Pastor Grubb did was connected to a personal story. Grubb told me about one Faith Forward member who was forced to leave the church. Her landlord slapped new paint on the walls and increased the rent, causing her to relocate to the Bronx. How many more members were in a similar predicament?

This was in 2015. So a few years later, when the developers approached Grubb, that church member’s ordeal was on his mind. His conviction forced him to assess the needs of his community, the challenge of affordable housing that all New Yorkers face, and meet people at a “common place.” That meant partnering with the developers and community leaders to offer 67 affordable housing units, on top of his church, extending it to a seven-story building.

To push forward with this proposal, the community board rezoned the block and lot. Pastor Grubb did not sell; instead, he agreed to a ground-lease for developers to make use of commercial space. It’s a “long process,” Pastor Grubb recalled, but he’s very grateful that he was part of it and made “sure that affordable means affordable and reflects the income of the neighborhood.”

The fruits of his labor paid off when construction was finally completed in October 2021. By the Spring of 2022, the place was filled. There were 35,000 applicants for the 67 units in the development called the Harry T. Nance Apartments, named after the previous pastor. The partnership included the church, Riseboro Community Partnership, the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The total cost of the project was estimated at about $36 million, with housing eligibility set at incomes of $21,930 for an individual and up to $75,120 for a household of three, according to a press release announcing the agreements for the development in 2018. Pastor Grubb posed the rhetorical question: “How do 85 people come together to make something like this happen?” His arms are open wide to emphasize the size of the building. The 85 people is a reference to the church’s small membership.

Pastor Grubb answered his own question by telling me another story; this time about the role of the chicken and the pig in the preparation of breakfast: “The Pig asks the chicken, ‘What’s your contribution to breakfast?’ The chicken replies, ‘I laid two eggs.’ As the chicken was speaking, the pig had tears in his eyes. The Pig says, ‘For me to make a contribution to breakfast, it’s a total sacrifice.’” Pastor Grubb makes the point that God will use people whose hearts are devoted and of any size to make impactful change. Faith Forward may be small, but they are making mighty contributions to the community.

Pastor Grubb said the ministry’s food pantry, operating since 2005 from another church-owned storefront in the neighborhood, serves more than 400 people. The pantry is the “best in the area,” he said.

The church’s doors are also open for graduation ceremonies, community board meetings, and shelter for those in need. During the pandemic, they pooled resources with another church to hold service online and in person.

The new name, Faith Forward, is tailored to reach young people and to reflect the church season they are in—truly moving forward by faith. Pastor Grubb is grateful for his three daughters and wife who support his leadership and his journey. What’s next for Pastor Grubb? Completion of the church’s new sanctuary, fellowship hall, and a recreational room for children; the reason for the blueprints on the table.

Pastor Grubb walked me back to my car. We crossed the busy intersection on Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway. He enthusiastically greeted a group of teens passing by. When they left I asked if he knew them; he did not. I chuckled. It’s this friendly, community-driven approach that made Pastor Grubb live out his values loud and proud.

Faith Forward Church

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