The Rev. David Alger has won the 2009 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize for his nearly 30 years of work as executive director of Associated Ministries.
He’s honored, he said, to be considered in the same group as past winners, including George F. Russell Jr., the Rev. Ron Pierre Vignec, David Corner and the founders of the Conflict Resolution, Research and Resource Institute.
Alger and his wife, Sally, are looking forward to going to Oslo in December for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. His trip is part of the local prize awarded by sponsors Norden Lodge No. 2, Sons of Norway, and Embla Lodge No. 2, Daughters of Norway.
And he’s trying to work out his schedule for May 30, the day he’ll accept the prize, and the day he’ll bid his official farewell to his Associated Ministries job of nearly 30 years.
Alger came to Tacoma in 1980 expecting to act as a “metropolitan minister,” to promote dialogue among churches and facilitate their service programs.
It didn’t work out quite that way. Under his leadership, Associated Ministries has tackled Pierce County’s toughest issues and invited the faith community to join the effort.
It built a refugee resettlement program, led anti-war activities, and demanded the Police Department solve a problem with officers’ violence and the use of lethal force.
Alger worked with pastors and law enforcement chaplains to establish the Moment of Blessing program. Since 1980, they’ve visited some 250 spots where people have died by violence.
“Moments of Blessing are tragic things, but they also contain beautiful moments of healing,” he said.
Last week, a young friend of one of the slain Harrison children asked to help with the blessing. A chaplain invited her to hold the bowl of water that was sprinkled near the Graham-area home of James Harrison, who shot his five children before killing himself.
“You could not help but be touched,” Alger said.
As AIDS developed in the 1980s, Associated Ministries stood up against homophobia, and worked to found the Pierce County AIDS Foundation.
When Southeast Asian immigrants brought centuries-old national hatreds with them, Associated Ministries helped start the Indochinese Cultural and Services Center in Salishan.
“Those were very controversial times,” Alger said. “We had to make arrangements for people to come to the meetings without guns.”
During the height of Tacoma’s gang violence, Alger supported Hilltop residents’ work to take back their neighborhood with the Hilltop Action Coalition.
Associated Ministries was the incubator for Tacoma’s Habitat for Humanity and the Tacoma Home Ownership Center. It helped develop a network of food banks.
When its Paint Tacoma Beautiful organized volunteers to repair and paint homes, it did more than abate blight in the city, and later the county.
“What is really amazing is the transformation of the people rejuvenating the homes for the elderly and the disabled,” Alger said. “They realize the joy it brings to others. They want to be more involved in the community. They also learn how complex the housing problem is.”
That program’s hidden peacemaking inspired Alger to endorse Sallie Shawl’s nomination for this year’s Peace Prize. Shawl has run Paint Tacoma from the start. She organizes an interfaith camp for young people, and wants to spread that work to adults.
“Her life, down to the littlest detail, reflects peacemaking,” Alger said.
After May, Alger, a Presbyterian minister, will bring his work for peace to a personal level. He plans to study and to find his new place in the faith community.
“I have even talked about getting back to pastoral care,” he said. “I used to love spending time in hospitals, working with people who are dealing with death and dying.”
Alger will receive the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize on May 30 at the annual Spring Banquet at Pacific Lutheran University’s Scandinavian Cultural Center.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677