On August 13th our congregation gathered with another congregation in the park for a BBQ. In some ways it was a rather unremarkable thing. What made the BBQ special was that it was a gathering of a primarily white church and a primarily black church, who are trying to build a relation-ship with each other for the purpose of bridging the signifi-cant racial divides that exist within the city of Wichita. What was essentially a relaxed time of conversation, games and food, was also a key step in an important ongoing pro-ject in our city. I’d like to take a bit of time to remind us of how we got to this point and also to show us where we are going in the future.
In the summer of 2015 there was a tragic shooting in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a racially motivated shooting that sparked response throughout the country, including Wichita. After one of these prayer
vigils Bishop Wade Moore and Sam Muyskens invited a number of faith leaders to work on a project to help get people of different races to build relationships with each other. Because Sam has a very long history with our con-gregation, I was invited to be a part of this early planning meeting.
Eventually, this project became known as Beyond Tolerance. A key part of this movement was to encourage pastors and other faith leaders to exchange pulpits as an entry point into new relationships between congregations. It was through this process that I was paired up with Pastor Roosevelt DeShazer from Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. After several meetings in the fall, in two Sundays in January he and I exchanged pulpits. He first preached at our church, and then I preached at their church.
It was an exchange that was very well received by both congregations. So well, in fact, that we decided that we really wanted to continue the relationship in an intentional way. In spring, we then gathered a number of people from each congregation into a committee to start planning some events for this fall. What we decided was that we would have three events. The first would be the BBQ in OJ
Watson Park. It was a chance for both churches to really meet each other and start building some relationships.
The next two events will take the idea of a pulpit exchange to the next level. Instead of just exchanging pulpits, we’re going to take our whole churches to visit each other’s worship services. On October 2, our congregation will travel to PMBC to join their whole worship service. Then on December 11 their church will come to First CoB for worship. At each of these services Pastor DeShazer and Pastor Stucky will do a joint sermon. However, the worship style will basically be done by the hosting congregation.
It is worth naming, at this point, that these worship exchanges are going to be cross-cultural experiences. Or to put it more bluntly, they are going to be new, different, and probably even a bit uncomfortable. That’s the point. Particularly for our congregation, our task is to simply show up as a guest, be open to whatever new experience that God has in store for us, and enjoy getting to worship with our Sisters and Brothers in a new way. Yes, there are things that we know will be different. Their service will be at a different time, a little be longer, more high energy, and a good bit louder than ours. But there will be other things that we won’t know what to do or what to expect, and it will be fine.
As I’ve thought more and more this relationship and the work of anti-racism in Wichita, the more I’ve realized that one of our key tasks as white people is to simply be willing to show up in places where we’re not in control. It’s really easy to look at a worship service or a prayer vigil or some other event where we’re not sure exactly what is going to happen, and then make the choice to simply stay home, usually because we don’t want to feel uncomfortable. In anti-racism work there is a particular power in simply being present. This is why the large turnout for the BBQ was such an important thing. And this is why our willingness to simply go and worship with our partner congregation is so powerful.
God is doing truly amazing things in our city, and our church is a part of it!
Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.