CANNAPOLIS, NC – Troy Savage says that Martin Luther King’s long-standing critique of racial division in the American Church is still relevant.
“When they say that the most isolated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11 … it’s true,” Savage said, adding that people of different races, ethnicities and cultures work regularly and socialize together. “And then on Sunday morning we do it – we go our separate ways.”
But Savage doesn’t think it should stay that way. He and his family of four, African Americans, attend The Refuge Church near Charlotte, North Carolina. It is one of the churches trying to diversify Sunday mornings in America.
“When we think of racial reconciliation, in fact, our goal should be to do what Jesus wanted us to do to be one,” said April Savage, his wife. “That’s really what The Refuge is trying to do. They want to unite people … where we not only live in one church, but also celebrate in one church ”.
In November 2016, the Asylum Church, a largely white multi-Congregation, merged with a predominantly black church and hired its pastor, the Rev. Derrick Hawkins, to serve on the ministry. Rev. Jay Stewart, chief pastor of The Refuge Church, and Hawkins, who is now one of the executive pastors, described the merger in detail in Welded: Forming Racial Relationships That Continue.
“Part of our goal is to be a demonstration of unity, a demonstration of racial reconciliation in a nation that has been divided for too long. And we have the privilege of coming out to that end, ”Stewart said.
Over the past two decades, the ethnic diversity of U.S. congregations has increased, according to a 2021 study by National Congregations. Mostly black congregations still make up about 20%, but the proportion of predominantly white congregations in America has declined, although the presence of a minority in them has grown, the study said.
About 15% to 20% of those who worship at the Cannabis campus of The Refuge Church are African Americans, said Stewart, who considers this increase in congregation diversity a great success.
“Seeing what you saw today in the south is a problem – it’s a big problem,” Stewart said Sunday. “Six years ago you wouldn’t have seen it here, but today you’ve seen diversity moving in the right direction.”
Decades have passed since civil rights activists desegregated Jim Crowe’s lunch stalls in the south and the landmark federal voting rights law went into effect. Today, racial relations in North Carolina continue to be affected by debates over national politics and political strife in the states, from how the police treat black people, to how students teach blacks, to disputes over guerrilla rule and voting rights.
On a recent Sunday at The Refuge Church campus in Cannopolis, the band played modern Christian songs, and believers – black and white – joined hands in prayer, and a steady stream of churchgoers was called to the stage for spiritual healing.
Jonathan and Summer Daniel, who are white and joined the congregation before the merger, welcomed the change. “Psalm 133 says that unity is the place where the Lord commands to bless,” said Jonathan, who has heard only positive feedback from his friends about the merger.
This was not the case with April Savage. “Not everyone understands that,” she said.
“Some people they may not say it out of their mouths, but they feel like you’ve abandoned your people. Because you’re going for it, mostly white ministry, or whatever you want to classify it. But we decided not to look at it that way. We choose to look at it because it is the Kingdom of God and it is the Kingdom that brings us closer. We all believe in the same thing. “
Of black adults attending religious services in the United States, 25% say they go to houses of worship with multi-religious congregations and clergy, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center report. Much more – 60% – say they attend religious services where most or all of the faithful and clergy are black.
Rev. Abdou Knox, pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the Great Bethel in Charlotte, warned pastors of interracial congregations not to neglect the experience of their black members.
“We really need to do what’s best for our family, and if it’s better for our family to worship in an interracial setting, that’s great. But as a pastor to other interracial pastors, do not forget, do not leave and do not neglect the struggle, the struggle of the Blacks. We must include it in our faith, ”he said.
Compared to those who attend multiracial or white churches, or houses of worship with other racial affiliations, black adults who attend black Protestant churches are more likely to say they hear about issues such as racial relations and criminal justice reform from the department. reports Pew. states.
Historically, black churches have long been a major part of the spiritual life of black Americans, as well as a center of social and cultural support, as well as a push for racial equality.
“Belief in the African American community has always been all we had. And so we are inclined to what I knew to do … seeking the Spirit of God for unity, “Stewart said.” Only the power and presence of God that unite us. “___
AP reporters Tom Foreman Jr. from Winston-Sale, North Carolina, and Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tenn.
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