BY JENNIFER CARWILE
As I drove from Sunday School at FUMC to eleven o’clock service at St. Mary’s Baptist Church, I nibbled on a packet of Belvita crackers–I had heard that Baptist services go for a long time, and I didn’t want my stomach rumbling in the middle of things. Settling in to experience worship with our neighbors in the community, I took in my surroundings. I noticed the baptismal pool–a reminder of how different our practices are. Then I listened to music from a grand piano, a drum set, and keyboard–a reminder of the America Street contemporary service at FUMC–and how we all worship through music.
I was most intrigued by the ladies dressed in white at the front, who I learned were deaconesses. During the service this day they were recognizing the passing of the head deaconess and the appointment of the new–a wonderful reminder that we all have traditions that we pass along, that are important to our faith experience. Words of welcome from Pastor Knighton, who let us know that Rev. Brady had been at the church early that week for a ministers’ meeting, reminded me again that we are all working parts of the body of Christ.
Back in April, rumors of the Justice Department swirled, I attended a community meeting in anticipation of the Alton Sterling decision being announced. One comment from that meeting that stood out to me came from one of the African American pastors in attendance. He said that he felt like, when issues really come to the table, the African American community often heard talk of “We support you”. They were really hoping that they would SEE their Caucasian neighbors offering support this time. We left that meeting with the charge to go back to our churches and see how, as congregations, we can respond. Is there a way that our church can have a conversation about our role in this, how we might show support, and to encourage people to be present “at the table”?
Since our church is known in the community, I felt that it was important that we were leaders in sharing the love of Christ with our community members who were hurting. I invited some other members of FUMC who were interested to my house for dinner and discussion on how we might respond to this. We decided that one way we could show solidarity and love to the African American Community was to visit an African American church for worship. Carolyn Carnahan, a member of FUMC has had longstanding ties with St. Mary’s and asked that we visit with their congregation. St. Mary’s is in the Eden Park neighborhood near where the shooting happened last summer. We knew that community was hurting and we hoped to extend a healing gesture of love as we worshiped with them. We planned to invite them to visit our congregation in the following weeks so that we could reciprocate.
About 12 of us went to St. Mary’s for worship on Sunday, May 7. There were various thoughts leading up to the experience. We were obviously not part of the congregation–would we be welcomed? Would it be uncomfortable? Regardless of everyone’s apprehensions going in, everyone who went felt like it was a worthwhile experience. It was interesting to see how the rituals of their service varied from ours, and yet how the prayer and message was the same expression of love to our shared savior, Jesus.
We decided that, along with inviting St. Mary’s members to join us for worship, we would invite them to share a meal with us so that we could talk and get to know each other a little better. We were so pleased that a group of 20 people accepted our invitation! They were greeted by welcome teams in the gym before the service and sat with their welcome ambassadors during the service.
At lunch we were welcomed by tables that were beautifully decorated by Mitzi Hackenburg and Daphne Drumm. The image of The Deaconesses, which I painted after our visit to St. Mary’s, adorned place cards that gave a memento of our time together. It was nice to see, by the enthusiastic discourse in the room, that tables of mixed FUMC/St. Mary’s members seemed to have a really easy time talking. After welcomes by Rev. Becky and Rev. Brady, we broke bread together while guiding the conversation to the end topic–What Next? Members of both churches agreed that this type of exchange was a really effective way to reach across the community to build bridges.
Here are ideas that we had to go forward with building bridges between our churches, as well as other churches across our community:
• Do a church exchange once a quarter, between our churches, or different churches each time.
• Attend Sunday School as well as church to get to know people better.
• Forming prayer groups that meet early morning/ lunch/ etc with members of different congregations
• Youth Activities (we realized that families with children might like to be involved, and that gearing activities towards children would make that easier)
• Having our churches’ youth groups do activities together, like a field day or (your idea here!)
• Having our older youth groups do things together, especially activities for the younger kids
• Doing a potluck where we have some activities for the kids so the adults can talk
Want to build some bridges with us? We welcome anyone to join us for future cross–community exchanges. If you are a prayer warrior, involved with youth, would like to be a Church Ambassador on a future exchange, or have any other ideas about activities that we can do, please contact Jennifer Carwile at JKPetru@aol.com or 704–526–9087. I would love to speak with you!