Pursuing Racial Reconciliation by Walking Down the Street
Our churches aren’t more than 300 yards from each other. Both are tucked back in the northwest part of Austin, Texas. Both are Baptist (one missionary and one SBC). Both have around 100 or so members and attenders. Both are generally middle- to upper-class. Both have a preschool during the week.
One is a white church. One is a black church.
At least that’s probably the way our community distinguishes us. After all, if you were to stand between our churches and watch us pour out from Sunday services, it would be rather obvious. Their church has only a few white or otherwise non-black members. Ours has one black adult and one black child.
Over the previous decades our churches have enjoyed different seasons—some of fellowship, some of distance. Our churches have enjoyed mutual choir gatherings in the past. However, in the five years I’ve been here, I’ve only sporadically reached out to their pastor, and our relationship has basically been non-existent.
PRAYING FOR RACIAL RECONCILIATION
Earlier this summer, in response to our country’s high-profile shootings, our church began to pray for racial reconciliation, for diversity in our body, and for healing in our nation. We mentioned the names of those shot this summer. A few times, I walked over to talk and visit with the pastor. But he wasn’t there.
However, a while back, I had a few free hours before a meeting. So I walked over, and he was there.
He immediately welcomed me into his office, and I simply said I wanted to come by to hear how his church was doing and pray together. He was glad to do so. The last time I sat down with him, years ago, we got stuck in an argument about whether or not the Bible prescribed a plurality of elders. Our church was in the process of adopting a plurality of elders for the first time, and he wasn’t as keen on the idea as me. Because of that and a few other theological differences, I just wasn’t sure we lined up enough to really connect, so I let that keep me from contacting him for a long time.
A MEETING BETWEEN TWO PASTORS
He pulled his chair away from the table so there was only about a foot between my knees and his—our chairs now facing one another. I scooted my chair to face his, just enough to show I wanted to meet face-to-face. It was a tad uncomfortable—and then it became more so.
He leaned forward into the already small space and opened his hands, palms up, resting them on his knees. He looked at me and said, “What would you like to pray about?” It was clear the open hands were not in a position of praise—it was his wordless invitation to hold both hands together.
I responded with two prayer requests. First, as pastors, I said I wanted to pray for our churches and for each other. Second, I said with all that had happened this summer regarding race in our nation that I’d been thinking about you, your church, and our community. I wanted to hear what you thought about race in our city and our community, and to pray about that.
He took his hands from his knees and rested his elbows on his chair. He sat back and stretched his legs. He tilted his head sideways and said, “Really?”—as if to say “Are you sure?” and “I’m thankful you asked” at the same time. “Yes, really,” I said.
TAKING TIME TO LISTEN
Then the brother began to talk. He told me about what it was like to live as a black man. He shared about challenges he faced being hired in 1979 as the first black computer engineer in his department of the city. He talked about shootings in our area over the years and how they’d been handled. He told me about white couples and families walking into their church on Sunday mornings and walking back out, not staying for the service. He shared about a string of burglaries in his neighborhood in the 80s, about how it was handled in the news (it was hidden), and about what punishment the white convicted criminals received. He mentioned several more stories I’ve since forgotten and said there were still more if only we’d had the time. Toward the end of our meeting, he was out of his chair, re-enacting being pulled over this summer in East Texas (where we’re both from) and what he did when he was asked for his license and registration.
I listened. It was serious. But we also laughed hard. We talked as brothers in Christ, and then we both prayed for our churches to grow, for the supra-national unity of the gospel, and for each of us to be faithful pastors.
At one point, he looked at me sternly, but gently, like a grandfather (he is my elder by several decades). He said, “Because of the positions you and I have as pastors, we have the ability to bring about change in our community that others don’t.” I said I agreed.
I left full of joy. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had felt convicted for a considerable season to make a real connection with that pastor—to attempt to bridge our churches—and finally had the opportunity.
BARBECUE AND PRAYER MEETINGS
Before leaving, we discussed our churches getting together for barbecue and prayer meetings. I shared that we have an elders’ meeting coming up and I’ll bring it up to them—which I did.
That reminded him of something. As I was walking out the door he asked me, smiling, how the “multiple-pastors experiment” was going. I said it was going well, and if I ever had a you-told-me-so moment that I’d get back to him. We laughed again.
In short, I feel like I became friends with someone who was already a brother. I befriended a fellow pastor to talk to and pray with, someone from whom I can learn a great deal. Even now, I’m realizing the point of my relationship with this brother won’t simply be about my own education regarding race. I’m certain he will be a source of counsel and support on many issues.
I’m also looking forward to the barbecue and the prayer in the name of Christ.
I confess: I mentioned this to the guys at 9Marks and they asked me to write about it. I’m not sure this little meeting is really article-worthy. After all, there’s no discernible fruit to talk about yet. We haven’t had the barbecue; we haven’t prayed. But I was told, “Just you sitting and listening to him is fruit.” Well, if it is, then it’s fruit of the gospel and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I pray there be much more.