For the Davis family, Sunday mornings have always been hectic.
In the early days, the Rev. Willie Davis would wake up and slide the dining room table into the laundry room. His wife, Ciara, used to joke that she’d need a new table after all the wear and tear. But they needed to make room so he would have a place to preach.
Soon, people would start to file in. Eventually they moved to the Dineen Park Pavilion. And then they rented space from Mount Mary University.
It took years to find the place where they’d build their church, and even longer to move into it. But Willie and Ciara never lost faith. They were on a mission.
Invisible Reality Ministries, 2700 N. 54th St., is a non-denominational Christian church. Willie serves as senior pastor and Ciara is a fellow pastor. Their three daughters – Destiny, Ashanti and Trinity – also are involved with the church.
“This is what really defines us,” Willie said. “This is our purpose. This is why we experienced what we experienced through our lives.”
Willie and Ciara, both Milwaukee natives, see their church as the best way to give back to the communities where they grew up.
Invisible Reality has engaged with initiatives to promote health for its congregation, including a partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin that has led to implicit bias trainings and advocacy for Black and brown patients in an exam room.
Jeff Morzinski, a professor emeritus for the Medical College of Wisconsin, said Willie’s work with MCW has evolved over the years from youth outreach to working in re-entry programs for incarcerated individuals. Re-entry specifically, Morzinski said, was an area where Willie brought a holistic approach.
“He knew that people needed personal support,” Morzinksi said. “He knew about building forgiveness and connection with one’s own neighborhoods and community.”
The church also hosts the H.E.A.L.T.H. program, an acronym for “helping everyone attain life that’s healthy.” The program connects church members with graduate students from Alverno College who can provide free consultations and help them identify medical issues.
Mental health ministry
In addition, the church provides free mental health services.
Every Wednesday, the church hosts Stronghold Sessions from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The group discussions bring together those in the congregation who seek help with struggles, including addiction and depression, and connects them with the pastors and Jim Gerber, a psychotherapist.
Ciara said the idea is to give people psychological help and spiritual support. The free services are meant to help those who need assistance but otherwise might not be able to afford it.
“Jesus and therapy will meet the need,” Ciara said. “You need both.”
Willie said the sessions have helped people overcome addiction, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.
Gerber said Invisible Reality stands out from other groups he’s worked with because of its commitment to the community. People in the program look out for each other.
“People move forward in groups,” Gerber said. “It makes a significant difference – they’re not as isolated.”
A vision for community
Willie grew up around gangs, drugs and violence. When he needed a safe space, he had his grandmother’s house.
“My upbringing was very harsh. If it hadn’t been for my grandmother, I don’t know if I’d even be here today,” he said.
Willie was born and raised on North 23rd and West Lloyd streets, near the Amani neighborhood. His grandmother, who acted as a “mayor” for the neighborhood, was also the woman who taught him everything he knows now about faith.
“She validated every aspect of the Word for me,” Willie said. “The love that I have for the community, the love that I have for family, my understanding of what family should look like – I received that from my grandmother.”
And he wants others to have the same experience.
“It has to be something better,” Willie said. “A neighborhood that is suffering and full of violence and drugs and gang activity – there’s no way that this should be the norm. There’s no way that this should be the accepted rule.”
The church has tried to make that “something better” a reality.
Invisible Reality Ministries is a member of Common Ground, a citizen-based group in Southeastern Wisconsin that works to address social issues. Willie has worked recently with the group to try to reduce gun violence.
The church leads other initiatives as well, including periodic soup kitchens, back-to-school fairs and youth programs.
“To see families come in and they’re excited and their lives have been changed, and they’re starting to see their purpose and believe they could be better in life,” Willie said. “It makes it all worth it for us.”