Black-White Churches

by Sandra K. Chambers

 Two congregations in Michigan drew national attention recently when they united to create a multiracial church

In a city where racial tensions are running high, a recent church merger has captured the attention of city officials and the local media.

In Battle Creek, Mich., Faith Assembly Christian Fellowship, a mostly African American congregation, and New Harvest Fellowship, a mostly white congregation, joined ranks Sunday morning, Nov. 1, to become Faith Assembly International Christian Fellowship.

Shortly before the service, Pastor Larry Silverman and fellow members of New Harvest Fellowship marched two blocks from their former building to their new church home at 400 W. Michigan Avenue. Escorted by four robed deacons from Faith Assembly, the members were greeted warmly at the new church by Bishop Eugene McCoy and his congregation.

Arm in arm, McCoy and Silverman made their way down the center aisle to the front of the church as a crowd of 400 parishioners, guests and press members looked on.

"The merger ceremony had all the feelings of a wedding," said Silverman’s wife, Connie, who wept quietly during the processional.

Weeks before the merger, the Battle Creek Enquirer ran several stories about the upcoming event, praising the congregations for their effort to overcome racial barriers. Battle Creek police chief Jeffrey Kruithoff endorsed the church’s commitment to an urban ministry that is based on God’s solutions instead of men’s.

Television and radio stations from Kalamazoo, Mich., and as far away as Brooklyn, N.Y., covered the merger. The media has centered on the racial side of the union, but both McCoy and Silverman say the merger is "a God thing."

"We want to see God move in people’s lives, regardless of their race or culture," Silverman said. "Our vision is not just for a black-white church, but for a multiracial congregation where God’s love flows out to the entire community."

Added McCoy: "When two congregations can come together with a common vision to serve the community and worship God when so many other churches are splitting over philosophical differences, that’s a miracle."

The two pastors met each other last June when McCoy passed Silverman’s church and heard worship music coming from the same building his congregation occupied 20 years ago. A nightclub had moved into the location after McCoy’s congregation outgrew it, and he had been praying for a church to occupy the building. He stepped inside to meet the pastor.

"We hit it off right away," Silverman said. "We began to have lunch together and discovered we had a common vision for the city. Soon we were preaching at each other’s services."

In September, McCoy and Silverman invited every church in the area to join them for a week of services centered on unity and prayer. They called the event Convocation in Fellowship ’98, and 10 area churches responded. McCoy and Silverman say God soon spoke to them about merging.

"Because our vision was so similar, we realized it didn’t make sense to duplicate our efforts," Silverman said. "We both had a heart for evangelism and for the inner city."

Faith Assembly will continue to open its doors to prostitutes, drug addicts and alcoholics who often drift into the church, where they find love and practical help. A ministry to "latchkey" children is being planned. It will include computer literacy training, as well as a tutorial program.

Sojourner Truth Leadership Academy, started by Faith Assembly, has helped more than 500 at-risk children succeed academically by helping them develop skills and experience God’s love.

What do the two congregations think about the merger?

"All of our people have been very open to it from the beginning," McCoy said.

Kelly Dotson, a college student from McCoy’s congregation, told local news media: "We’re a team together now. Black and white, we’re coming together to worship God."

People are always curious about the church’s racial harmony, the pastors say. The two men say that where the love of Christ abounds, tough issues are never roadblocks.

"We may have concerns, but there’s nothing we can’t talk about and work out," McCoy said.

McCoy’s wife, Doris, agreed: "This is a marvelous opportunity to demonstrate what Jesus meant when He commanded us to love one another.

Reprinted by permission, Charisma Magazine