By Jamie Shafer
In the Marketplace Faith column, we have the privilege of highlighting individuals whose everyday life is affected by their faith. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Garet Prior, a city planner whose faith affects his everyday life—but also whose work affects how his faith translates into action.
Garet grew up in Ohio in a family who went to church every Sunday. He says he had a childlike belief in things like working hard and following the rules. As a child he also remembers thinking that the adults you believed in were always honest, but that illusion was later shattered as his family witnessed some tough situations with dishonest church leaders. Though as a young adult he questioned his beliefs, he later returned to involvement in a local church.
His career path began as a high school history teacher. While Garet says he enjoyed teaching, he always had a broader interest in the community. “School is a mirror of what is happening in the larger community,” says Garet. This drew him to enter graduate school to focus on urban planning. “Urban planning seemed like a great step into community issues,” he says. “It’s not administration or law, and it allows you to step in and out of environmental and political issues.” Garet now serves as a senior planner in Town of Ashland, Virginia, focusing on short-range and long-range goals and planning for public infrastructure and use.
Relationship with Christ
Garet said there have been shifts on his faith journey over the past few years. While he used to focus on rule following and doing good things, he now spends more time pursuing an earnest relationship with Christ.
One of those breakthrough moments happened as a result of serving with a local ministry. “I learned a lot by working with a homeless ministry that later went out of business. We all got burned out by it. I learned about pouring so far into service—but without reflecting on it and making sure there is a relational basis with Christ—it can actually be harmful.”
He continued, “You think you should be selfless, pour out for others, and you will feel God’s presence. When that wasn’t there, I felt put off. I had to do some real searching about why that was.”
Garet said his approach to serving is different now. In a good-natured but firm way, he explained, “I won’t say yes to everything. I focus and pray on what actions will be best for the place I’m serving and for the goal of impacting my relationship with Christ.”
When asked how his faith impacts his work, Garet responded, “I think it has informed my professional work through what I’ve learned about understanding individual change.” This lesson also came from volunteering with the homeless and experiencing what it’s like to help someone make life changes. He noted that when someone is trying to make a trajectory change, it is impacted by their relationship with God, others, and society as a whole.
“As a planner, you are constantly dealing with change. You plan for an entire community, groups, neighborhoods, and individuals. You have to have an understanding of how an individual perceives change,” he shared.
Garet is also able to express his love for the community by serving in his church, Area 10 Faith Community in Richmond, Virginia. He said the church drew him in because they focused not only on having a relationship with God but also with the community.
As a part of the church’s Engage team, he has been able to help explore strategic ways to impact the community in a positive way. The church was able to identify some key issues in the community related to education, children in the adoption/foster system, and cyclical poverty. They developed smaller focus teams to target these issues and Garet currently serves on the education team.
He is also excited about the idea of matching church resources with the needs in the community. Because there is a medical college near their church, they have students and professionals coming to serve. “It’s great to give them a rake and ask them to clean up near a school, but what if we paired them with people with medical needs in the community?”
He reflects, “I think if you lead out and become engaged in your community, people see what your true mission is, and you reach people you wouldn’t normally reach.”
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.