Monday, 05 August 2013 11:33

Gay minister’s trespassing trial begins

A jury in Louisville, Ky., is scheduled to hear a case about an activist Baptist minister and his partner arrested for protesting the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Published in Social Issues
Monday, 29 July 2013 14:04

Moral Monday thoughts on Isaac Backus

Baptists understand civil disobedience. It's part of their history.

Published in Commentaries
Thursday, 18 July 2013 13:38

New strides toward freedom

Whatever else the Trayvon Martin case means, it compels us to continue, even extend, realistic conversations and actions related to the incessant dilemmas of race and racism in America.

Published in Can I Get a Witness?

An author and lawyer says racial inequality in America’s justice system would “have Dr. King turning in his grave.”

Published in Social Issues
Tuesday, 04 June 2013 12:32

The freedom of Will

Will Campbell was obsessed with grace, especially as it falls on inappropriate people at inopportune times.

Published in Can I Get a Witness?

The civil rights champion, author and enigmatic “preacher without a steeple” died peacefully June 3 at a medical care facility in Nashville, Tenn.

Published in People
Thursday, 09 May 2013 10:54

Minister: gay marriage not Baptist fight

“As a Baptist Christian, it grieves me that some of my sisters and brothers in the faith are advocating a position on how the government should deal with same-sex marriage that directly violates what Baptists stand for.”

Published in Social Issues
Wednesday, 08 May 2013 11:00

Cal Baptist lawsuit moves forward

A California judge rejected a Baptist university’s claim that it is exempt from a state law that bars discrimination based on gender identity.

Published in Social Issues

As its neighborhood shifts, a congregation often chooses to sell its facility and relocate. Many times, church's members have moved to a different part of town and want a building close to where they live.

Members either give away or sell the facility to another church in the neighborhood, usually one that ministers to the area's largest ethnic group.

Blended community

A few congregations, however, choose to create something new by merging two distinct churches. But creating a blended Christian community takes work.

St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights in Louisville, Ky., drew national media attention when the historically black St. Paul Missionary Baptist and the predominately white Shively Heights Baptist merged to create the blended congregation in August 2009.

Pastor Lincoln Bingham of St. Paul Baptist reached out to Shively Heights' pastor, Mark Payton, when Payton moved to the area 26 years earlier. The two became close friends, and as more African-Americans moved into the area, the two began talking about ways to minister to their community.

The pair wanted to lead their congregations to minister. But St. Paul's didn't have the facilities it needed, and Shively Heights members didn't have the economic resources to cover the upkeep on its building. Bingham and Payton felt God showing them a merger would be the best way to reach a community of nearly 300,000 people—both black and white.

Merger hasn't been all that uncommon in the past 20 to 25 years, but often the result reverts to one primary culture, or a church will hold two distinct services to accommodate each culture. As co-pastors, Payton and Bingham have worked hard to lead the blended congregation to remain blended. 

Currently, the church's makeup is about 60 percent black and 40 percent white. While the community is predominately African-American, the racial mix of new members since the merger has been about 50/50, with a few Hispanics and other minorities joining, as well.

Pastors Lincoln Bingham (center left) and Mark Payton (center right), along with their wives, lead their newly united congregation in prayer in 2009. (PHOTO/David Winfrey)

The congregation works at keeping a blend, even in its programs and governance. All Sunday school classes have two teachers—one black and one white—who rotate responsibilities each month. Every committee has a balanced representation, and the pastor scheduled to preach isn't announced ahead of time. "They know who it is when they see the bulletin," Payton said with a laugh.

Members concentrate on ministry, with an organized evangelistic outreach every Monday night, Vacation Bible School each summer and an annual back-to-school block party. For the past three years, the church has offered a basketball league, attracting 500 to 600 participants and spectators each weekend during the season.

"We've really been amazed at how well it is working," Payton said. "We just tried to determine what God's will is. … We just don't think there's room for prejudice."

Slowly becoming one

Members of New Home Baptist Church in Kansas City believed God had called them to reach the unchurched in Kansas City. In 2010, the church had about 200 members, with about 75 percent African Americans and 25 percent other groups. But they quickly outgrew their building. To continue making an impact on the area, they needed more room.

The nearby Mount Washington Baptist Church had been a large urban congregation in its heyday in the 1960s. But by 2008, when Tom Renfro became pastor, the congregation had dwindled to about a dozen senior adults. "Our youth department was two people in their 60s," Renfro quipped. Everyone else had long been retired.

New Home's pastor, Clarence Newton, and Renfro began discussing possibilities. New Home needed the room Mount Washington had, and Mount Washing-ton needed a future. Members decided both visions could be realized by merging.

The new congregation, though, decided to maintain each culture's identity by offering two services—one traditional and one contemporary. The traditional service, which Renfro led, became the home of Caucasian members, while black members chose the contemporary service, with Newton preaching.

Last year, when church decided it no longer could afford two pastors, Renfro resigned. Both the traditional and contemporary services still are offered, with Newton preaching both services. 

Each has become a little more blended as older blacks have chosen the traditional service and young whites have moved into the contemporary worship.

The church has baptized more than four dozen people since the merger.

Renfro anticipates Mount Washington will become a predominately black Baptist church in the near future. 

"But overall, the merger has been a success because the building is being used, and the church is reaching people for Christ and moving forward," he said.

Published in Congregations

After more than five decades of ministry, George Harrison understands what African-American Christians have gained and lost in the last half-century.

George Harrison

Harrison, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church-NBC in Waco, Texas, and a veteran church musician, vividly remembers life in segregated Central Texas. Growing up in Belton, he recalled how a society where whites and blacks existed in separate spheres that rarely intersected severely restricted his view of reality.

"Even though I could see beyond my community, it was like I was wearing blinders," he said.

The end of Jim Crow laws opened up opportunities for African-American advancement—and for whites to benefit from the contributions of black Americans, he noted.

"Desegregation was good for the nation," he said. "Desegregation had great value in terms of opening up opportunities to learn about other cultures."

Even so, Harrison acknowledged, segregation created a unified—albeit restricted—black community with the church at its center. 

"There was a richness in the close-knit community," he said. "You can't gain without losing. You can't lose without gaining."

In a closed, segregated society, Harrison got an early start in ministry as a church musician and composer. He began playing the piano at age 3 and wrote his first song, "Flowers in the Spring," at age 6. After he taught the song to the other children at Macedonia Baptist Church in Belton, where his father was chairman of deacons, the church called him to direct the children's choir and begin leading music in worship. At age 12, he began preaching.

Without question, Harrison recognizes he gained personally from the changes that occurred as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where he directed the premiere choral group and traveled extensively as a student recruiter.

Black church music chronicles the African-American experience, and veteran minister George Harrison wants to see that heritage preserved and passed along to the next generation.

After graduation, he worked several years in a post with a railroad company that allowed him to enter a master's degree-equivalency program before pursuing further graduate courses at Baylor University and Southwest Texas State University.

He also served as pastor of churches in Temple, Gatesville and Lampasas, as well as Macedonia Baptist Church in Belton. In 1987, he became pastor of First Baptist Church-NBC in Waco. 

About that same time, he was named director of cultural affairs at Baylor University and the first director of Heavenly Voices, the university's Black Gospel choir.

He went on to serve in several administration posts at Baylor. In 2003, Harrison returned to UMHB, first as director of community services and cultural affairs and later as director of digital media services.

Through it all, Harrison has maintained his love for music—particularly music distinctive to the African-American church. And he has made it his mission to help preserve that musical heritage.

Harrison produces a local radio program, "Gospel Now." He also leads occasional seminars that explore the meaning of Spirituals dating back to days of slavery, as well as more recent Black Gospel songs.

"There is a rich culture in those songs, and it's endangered. There's a richness in our worship, and the new generation has no idea about it," he said.

Even so, Harrison hopes the black church can regain its central role in the lives of African-Americans and recapture its ability to instill a clear sense of identity in young people. And he wants to teach the rising generation of black church leaders—as well as anyone else who will listen—about the history chronicled in African-American church music.

"The music tells the story," he said.

Published in Congregations
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