In November of 2016 I was feeling convicted: the previous several years, across the country, and in our own state, had seen a series of highly publicized, racially implicated shootings—some clearly racially motivated, others not so clearly, yet fitting that narrative too closely for comfort.
I know that I can’t count myself “woke” to these issues, but my eyes had been opened to the kinds of challenges young black men encounter daily in our society; the kinds of additional burdens that young white men simply never face. Terrance had come to live with us for about 8 months in 2006-7 when he and my two boys were in middle school together. I saw how even the most trivial incidents—conversations, retail transactions, transportation challenges—were tinged with racial bias for him. I saw him deal with slights and inconveniences (and I’m not talking about actually ugly encounters) with grace and kindness, and with an indefatigable optimism that had to be exhausting.
Yet here I was, some 10 years later, my life not having changed at all.
So I cold called Pastor Jamey Graham of the St John Baptist Church. I had met Jamey once, nearly 10-years earlier, in a locker room having both worked out; I sheepishly asked if we could be friends.
Over the next year and a half, we did that. We shared meals, enjoyed long conversations, got our families together, and dreamed about our churches doing something(s) together. His church is Baptist, mine is Anglican, so there are some limits on what that can look like; but we both wanted to do something, in the shared conviction that something is always better than nothing.
This June saw our churches take a first step together. We hosted a three-day Preaching Mission: a simple sung Evening Prayer with sermon. He would preach, and his church choir would sing before and after each sermon. Then, we would gather for an hour or so in the Parish Hall to get to know each other.
It was amazing! We averaged about 120 each evening, and the fellowship far exceeded my timid hopes. In some ways, the services amplified our differences: from the Opening Sentences through the Canticles felt starkly reserved and “white.” The choir and Pastor Jamey’s excellent preaching would bring the house down, and then we would tone it down again from the Apostles Creed through the Prayers. But to my delight, no one was troubled by that. We each got to be ourselves, and we enjoyed each other very much.
We don’t know where this will lead. This fall we are organizing supper clubs that will combine two families from our church with two families from theirs. The only requirement is that those groups figure out how to share a meal four times between now and the end of the year. What comes after that? We can’t wait to find out.
Dean and Rector Church of the Apostles, Columbia
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