Crossing Lines, Building Community

by Jared Christenson and Cynndie Hoff

When the city mayor moonlights as the worship leader at a local church, lines get erased. Citizens begin to see their city government officials as approachable, neighborly people. In short, community happens. And according to Covina Mayor John C. King, MAOM ’00, blurring those lines was the best thing that ever happened to his hometown.

“Covina’s roots go back many generations and the residents here feel strong ties with the city and one another,” said King. “I believe God has given me the gift and the responsibility of stewardship in this town, to preserve its heritage and build on its traditions. I try to be open with my faith and bring a different worldview to the mayoral role. I don’t see it as a stepping stone to a higher office, but as a way to serve God by serving people.”

During his term, King received an invitation to a dinner at the local United Methodist Church honoring 30-year members. King wrote and sang a song based on Jeremiah 29 where God told those exiled to Jerusalem to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper,” (Jeremiah 29:5-7). This ancient call to community characterizes the kind of camaraderie and cohesiveness King wants to foster in Covina. In attendance that evening, longtime Bishop Mary Ann Swensen said, “I’ve known a lot of mayors and politicians in my day, but I’ve never met one willing to stand before his constituents and sing.”

Whether he is singing in church or taking care of city business, the people of Covina seem to like King’s new approach. From support staff to council members, city employees tell him they appreciate his honest, transparent business dealings and the collegial atmosphere in the office. Rather than viewing him as a politician, residents see him as a civil servant who cares about what they care about and is ready to take action. Through programs, volunteerism, new facilities, and other creative ideas he comes up with (and finds funding for) that bring people together as a team, King, without a doubt, can be described as the mayor who made a true community out of Covina. One of his favorite developments was the addition of Christian music to the city’s popular Concerts in the Park program. “Last summer, we had four nights of Christian bands playing in the park and everyone loved it so much, we’re doing it again this year,” he said.

For King, being a godly leader has meant making an effort to establish trust between local government and the community by modeling integrity and transparency. “In general, people don’t trust government on a large scale, so I hope and pray that during my term as mayor, the dialogue between citizens and government becomes more and more open,” said King. Leading in such fashion has also meant making an effort to reestablish prayer as a regular part of city council meetings and maintaining an attitude of service to the Covina community. As King remarked, “I try to bring a high level of respect to the citizens when we have our city council meetings because they’re the reason we are here. We are here to serve them.”

But public service also comes with its share of challenges. King credits his training in the Master of Arts in Organizational Management (MAOM) Program from APU’s Center for Adult and Professional Studies (CAPS) with the development of the skills that help him deal with those difficulties. There, in classes designed to explore the intersection of faith and the professional life, on a campus built on a cornerstone of community, he learned from professors who, “showed that you can be out there in the world doing things as a Christian that make an impact, make a lot of sense, and not just be hidden away in the safe world of church,” said King.

“It was a real turning point in my life. I enrolled wondering how God was going to use me, and walked away with confidence in my life’s direction. So many times, people who get into public life forget that it’s a calling, forget that it’s an opportunity to help other people,” said King. “I want to be a 24/7 Christian—a godly father to my kids, a godly husband to my wife, and a godly leader to our community.”

Jared Christenson ’08 was an editorial intern in the Office of University Relations.

Cynndie Hoff is a freelance writer in Walnut, California.