The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” The year was 1963, a time of turmoil, change and racial challenge with King in the forefront of the vanguard seeking equal rights for minorities. His work was based largely on his Christian theology.
In his most famous speech, “I have a dream,” he set out how the God he knew loved people without racial distinction, saying, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Sunday mornings still see a racial sorting in worship services more extreme than anything that remains in sports or the workplace. But combining races and cultures at church can present some challenges. Music styles, dress, preaching methods, length of services and more all can lead to conflict.
A Baylor University study found that churches that promoted diversity generally declined in attendance, but that the trend of churches moving in this direction was accelerating.
“The percentage of multiracial congregations in the United States nearly doubled from 1998 to 2012, with about one in five American congregants attending a place of worship that is racially mixed, according to a Baylor University study,” The Baptist Standard noted. “The percentage of Protestant churches that are multiracial tripled, from 4 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. In addition, more African-Americans are in the pulpits and pews of U.S. multiracial churches than in the past, according to the study.”
Galveston County has a number of blended churches which combine not only races, but cultures and wide age spans, but Our Faith was offered an opportunity to witness the functional union of two Dickinson churches who are seeking to promote racial reconciliation in this community. New Vision, a largely black congregation, and First Baptist, a traditionally white one, are not merging, but they are working together on projects and some joint services.
What does this look like? For the Rev. Clint Yancy of New Vision and the Rev. Jimmy White of First Baptist, it’s time to “tag-team” the preaching, mix up the praise teams and to encourage the flocks to pray and eat together beyond the bounds of their traditions.
Chanda Eubanks, who lives in Webster, has been at First for several years now.
“It was phenomenal just having the two separate churches come together,” she said. “I was behind the scenes working in the kitchen for the after-service Thanksgiving feast. It has been amazing what camaraderie we’d built up in the two days of food preparation. We shared recipes and we melded it all together.”
The modest digs left to the combined group feature missing dry wall and seemingly abandoned rooms—a product of Harvey’s devastation in downtown Dickinson, but the tone of the service and meals remains upbeat and optimistic.
Lois Jones of La Marque is a founding member of New Vision and has spent 69 years in Dickinson.
“This is a great beginning,” she said. “I was raised in segregated, colored schools in Dickinson. I see this as a dream, a blessing and vision so I’m overjoyed. The time is now for us to come together.”
White was once the music minister at First and is an accomplished pianist. He shared the grand piano with talent from New Vision for the song service, and later, the pulpit with Yancy. Both expressed a strong desire to heal the long-standing racial rifts they see in Dickinson.
“We met by providential means,” said Yancy. “My wife and I were looking into daycare ministry and were sent to First Baptist to meet with Pastor White. The conversation started off about daycare but quickly turned into something even better. We started discussing about possibly joining our two congregations into one congregation.”
Over the last decade or so, a number of churches have consolidated as rising real estate prices, flooding and other challenges have forced small congregations to aggregate into larger ones. Yancy has some advice for those who are willing to go even further and to merge across racial or cultural lines.
“Remain open-minded,” he said. “I at first was a little apprehensive, but the more Pastor White and I met and talked, it became more clear that we may just be heading in the direction God wants us. My congregation loves the concept of our coming together to worship and some other future projects. In fact, they’re ready to do something for Christmas.”
Next week in Our Faith: Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church looks back on a century and a half of service.