Late last summer, I wrote to our vestry at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, “I have just gotten off the phone with the Rev. Anita Lovell senior pastor of our neighbors around the corner at Mt. Olive Baptist Church. She has invited us to come over to her church for a joint worship service at 10:45 am on October 29. She will lead worship and I will preach. They have a wonderful choir and celebrate joyfully in the best of the black gospel worship tradition. It will be a joy and I am looking forward to it. We will have a joint fellowship time with refreshments following at Mt. Olive. Our nursery at Redeemer will be open that day for our little ones.”
In August 2017, Pastor Anita had come to the monthly distribution day at the Redeemer Diaper Pantry to donate some baby clothes that had been given to her. It was there and then we discussed the idea of a joint service. I was heartsick over the racial tensions that were exploding in our nation, most especially in Charlottesville, VA. The idea quickly germinated, took root and we finalized the details.
We agreed in these days of racial tensions and division, we both wanted to show Canonsburg and the surrounding area that we can celebrate together with fellow brothers and sisters, the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus, and we are one in the Spirit—no matter our skin color. We wanted to begin to do our part in dispelling the truth of those famous but chilling words of Dr. King spoken in a sermon just four days before his assassination 60 years ago, “We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.” And sadly, for the most part, those words still ring true today.
In was no accident we chose October 29 since it is also Reformation Sunday, the Sunday when we would be commemorating the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany—recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation from which both Mt. Olive and Redeemer derive their theological grounding.
In late September 2017, I attended the Matthew 25 Initiative in Phoenix, AZ representing our Diaper Pantry. A highlight of this gathering for me was an address given by Professor Albert Thompson of the Diocese of the Mid- Atlantic entitled: A History of Race and the Church in the American Anglican Tradition, followed by a panel discussion, and then open mic responses by those gathered on the issue of race in America. The powerful address took a deep look at the history of racism in the Church from its origins in the fifteenth century to the modern era, with an emphasis on the Anglican tradition in the United States from the perspective of a man of color. As a Caucasian and a student of history, this perspective was not only new to me but an eye-opener as well. Many of the responses to the address were heartfelt expressions of remorse and repentance for past offenses.
It became clear to me that one of the most important reasons God sent me to the Matthew 25 Gathering was to prepare me to live into the plans our parish had made with Mt. Olive. On October 29, we visited our brothers and sisters at Mt. Olive for the joint worship service with me scheduled to preach. A fellow attendee from the Matthew 25 Gathering, Deacon Joanne Martin, who came to Mt. Olive specifically to pray for my preaching exclaimed, “I was swept away by the spirit-filled and heartfelt worship.”
The Mt. Olive congregation visited Redeemer on April 8 for a second joint worship service, with Pastor Anita as the preacher. In short, the service was another wonderful time of spiritfilled worship, biblical preaching, and Christian fellowship. Mt. Olive’s worship leader Corey Gilbert led us in a powerful time of praise and worship. In her message Pastor Anita Lovell encouraged us to move from simply holding joint worship services to being a force for unity, for reconciliation and for mission in our community. And we could be the catalyst to bring all the different churches together just as we came together. She reminded us of the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Dr. King and she quoted those famous words of his about the most segregated hour in America. Yet in spite of that reality, she encouraged us with these memorable words, “I hope there comes a time when we know each other so well, we don’t need to wear these nametags.”
One of our younger members stated, “Her sermon today was so powerful and I was totally wrapped up in what she was saying! A bold move to talk about race, yet it was a great message for all to hear. I don’t know how she did it, but it was just perfect.”
Another replied, “She talked about race without blame or condemnation. Anita stated the obvious but in a way that compels us all to work together. It was truly great.”
One of our more staid, traditional members even said, “I thought it was a great service and was really glad to see so many of the folks from both of our churches in attendance. I hope we can do another “home and home” [round of worship services].”
Following our worship services, we gathered in the Parish Hall for an awesome lunch prepared by many in our congregation. We had 131 souls in worship including many kids from both congregations in the Sunday school and nursery. At lunch, I scanned the room and there were only a few empty seats.
Before Pastor Anita exited, following lunch, we agreed to speak further about what all this bodes in our future together and more especially about reaching the entire municipality of Canonsburg with the message of racial reconciliation.
Later, one of our children’s ministers told me, “We are [already] exploring a joint VBS over the summer, and a Saturday night family service together.”
Let me conclude by saying this journey has been a blessing to me and to both our congregations and we are excited as we anticipate our future relationship with our neighbor church in Canonsburg and the impact we strive to achieve.