York churches bridge racial divide through ‘CommUnity’ worship

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comJune 22, 2014 

— On Sunday morning at Wesley United Methodist Church in York, dozens of women and men slid into pews and settled in for a church service. It was not so different from any other Sunday morning in any other church across the country, except for the fact that half the congregants aren’t members at Wesley at all.

Usually on Sunday, they’re 100 yards up West Jefferson Street, sitting in pews at the First Baptist Church. The women and men who attend First Baptist are predominantly white, while those who attend Wesley are black.

But their respective leaders, the Rev. Sheila Elliott at Wesley and the Rev. Trey Doyle at First Baptist, decided it was time to come together to celebrate what makes them all similar – their devotion to Christ – through a worship service they called CommUnity.

“They say that Sunday at 11 is the most segregated hour in America,” Elliott said to the congregation.

The world today would lead people to believe that what makes people different is stronger than what makes them similar, she said, sharing a story from the Bible about when Jesus traveled between Galilee and Samaria, showing those he met that they didn’t have to dislike and fear one another, but could be united in their belief in God.

“Jesus serves as a bridge between disconnected groups,” she said, encouraging everyone to be that same kind of bridge.

To conclude her message, Elliott broke into a Babbie Mason song, singing sweetly, “Just remember someone, somewhere is praying for you. ... I’ll be standing in the gap for you.”

A minister breaking into song isn’t something that happens often at First Baptist, said Sara Dickerson, who said Elliott’s voice was lovely and that she felt she had gotten a lot out of the messages of the combined service.

She’d never pondered the racial divide that exists on Sunday mornings, she said.

“It was wonderful,” Dickerson said. “It was so meaningful.”

Elliott and Doyle know each other through another organization, and both of them felt called to create this kind of service and to have their churches work together on other projects, Doyle said.

“We understand that the body of Christ crosses all boundaries,” Doyle said after the service concluded.

By working together, Doyle told the congregants, both groups could be a positive and reaffirming voice for one another and for the community at large.

While this was the only CommUnity service scheduled, Wesley United Methodist member Phyllis Ward said she hopes Wesley and First Baptist get together more often.

“I would recommend all churches in the community come together to fill the gaps,” she said.

While there may have been some small tweaks to the way a service at First Baptist or Wesley United Methodist normally would have gone, Ward said she barely noticed any.

“There’s not much of a difference at all,” she said. “And that’s the message for the day.”

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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