Ministry health

“Jesus and Therapy Will Meet the Need”: How a Ministry Brings the Church to the Community

Senior Pastor Willie Davis and his wife, Pastor Ciara Davis, founded Invisible Reality Ministries in their home in 2011. (Photo by Matt Martinez)

For the Davis family, Sunday mornings have always been hectic.

At first Reverend Willie Davis woke up and slid the dining room table into the laundry room. His wife, Ciara, joked that she needed a new table after all the wear and tear. But they had to make room for him to have a place to preach.

Soon people began to flock. Eventually they moved to the Dineen Park Pavilion. And then they rented space at Mount Mary University.

It took years to find the place where they would build their church, and even more to settle there. But Willie and Ciara never lost faith. They were on a mission.

Unseen Reality Ministries2700 N. 54and St., is a non-denominational Christian church. Willie is senior pastor and Ciara is a fellow pastor. Their three daughters – Destiny, Ashanti and Trinity – are also involved in the church.

“That’s what really defines us,” Willie said. “That’s our goal. That’s why we’ve been through what we’ve been through throughout 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 in initiatives to promote health for its congregation, including a partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin that led to implicit bias trainings and advocacy for black and brown patients in a ward of examination.

Jeff Morzinski, professor emeritus at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said Willie’s work with MCW has evolved over the years from youth outreach to work in rehabilitation programs for incarcerated people. Back to school in particular, Morzinski said, was one area where Willie brought a holistic approach.

“He knew people needed personal support,” Morzinksi said. “He knew how to build forgiveness and connect with his own neighborhoods and community.”

The church also hosts the HEALTH program, an acronym for “helping everyone achieve a healthy life.” The program connects church members with Alverno College graduate students who can provide free consultations and help identify medical issues.

Ministry of Mental Health

Additionally, the church provides free mental health services.

Every Wednesday, the church hosts Stronghold sessions from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Group discussions bring congregation members seeking help with addiction and depression together and connect them with pastors and Jim Gerber, a psychotherapist.

Ciara said the idea is to give people psychological help and spiritual support. Free services are intended to help those who need help but otherwise could not 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 suicidal thoughts.

Gerber said Invisible Reality stands out from other bands he has worked with because of its commitment to the community. The 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 the community

Willie grew up surrounded by gangs, drugs and violence. When he needed a safe space, he had his grandmother’s house.

“My upbringing was very tough. If it hadn’t been for my grandmother, I don’t know if I would even be here today,” he said.

Willie was born and raised on North 23rd and West Lloyd Streets, near the Amani district. His grandmother, who acted as the “mayor” of the neighborhood, was also the woman who taught him everything he now knows about faith.

“She validated every aspect of the Word for me,” Willie said. “The love I have for community, the love I have for family, my understanding of what family should be like – I got 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 hurting and full of violence, drugs and gang activity – there’s no way that’s the norm. There’s no way that’s the accepted rule.

The church tried to make this “something better” a reality.

Invisible Reality Ministries is a member of Common Ground, a grassroots group in southeastern Wisconsin working to address social issues. Willie recently worked with the group to try to reduce gun violence.

The church also runs other initiatives, 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 that they could be better off in life,” Willie said. “It’s worth it for us.”