Churches in Columbia more concerned about winning people for Christ than racial issues
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
COLUMBIA — Race relations often are tense across the United States, but in Columbia, especially in several Baptist churches, “we work together,” reported Dale Ledbetter, director of missions, Maury Baptist Association, based here.
During his 15-year tenure as DOM, racial tensions here have always been minimal, but recently, some great things have occurred which should encourage and be refreshing to all Tennessee Baptists, he said.
“Others should see God’s work in our little corner of the world to counteract all the negative we see and hear,” Ledbetter reported recently.
African-American and Anglo Baptist congregations in Columbia are crossing the racial divide, he noted.
Two players in these instances agreed.
Kenny Anderson and Dwight Church, both African-American pastors in Columbia, are very encouraged by recent racial developments.
Anderson noted that even before the shooting by a white man at a black South Carolina church in June killing nine, “we (African-Americans and Anglo Baptists) were already worshiping together. … It wasn’t a reactive thing; it was a proactive thing and that’s always good. …”
A “racial divide” does exist in the country, added Anderson. “There have been so many hateful things said, but we’re making it work in Columbia and we’re doing it on purpose.”
Dwight Church noted, “People talk a lot about unity and being unified, but they don’t want to do something about it.”
When Christians take a step to cross the racial divide, it might make a dramatic impact as it did in his case, said Church.
Anglo and African-American churches merge
Joey Johnson, a bivocational pastor, had been waiting and praying for God to work through him for the last several years.
Johnson has been pastor of several African-American churches over the past 17 years while working at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.
Then, last year he started a church in Columbia but after about a year the small congregation had dwindled. He and his family were paying a lot of the expenses of the congregation which was renting space in a strip mall.
During this period through a friend, Kenny Anderson, Johnson met Ledbetter and learned more about Southern Baptists than he knew.
Soon Ledbetter visited the new church being led by Johnson, Blessed Hope Baptist Church. In a few weeks, Ledbetter had talked again to Johnson and then to Ezell Rose, interim pastor of Mooresville Pike Baptist Church, Columbia.
Johnson and Rose got to know each other and in June, Mooresville Pike invited Blessed Hope Baptist to a joint service of the two very small congregations at Mooresville Pike. Johnson was invited to preach.
Soon, the two churches had merged, with Rose continuing to serve as interim pastor. In a few months the new congregation called Johnson as pastor.
“This is something that has never happened here in Columbia, a black and a white church merging,” said Rose, who has served as a pastor and, after retirement, as interim pastor of Baptist churches for 50 years. Recently Rose was called as interim pastor, Southside Baptist Church, Mount Pleasant.
“There was a community over there that didn’t have the ministry that they needed,” explained Rose, noting that the neighborhood is made up mostly of African-Americans. If the two churches grew separately “they wouldn’t have ever gotten together. I think this was God’s way of bringing them together,” Rose said.
“We’re just about winning people. It’s not about race, not about age, not about anything like that. It’s just about winning people to Christ …,” added Johnson. “We are a family now,” he concluded.
Anglo church shares facility with African-American church
This past Easter members of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, Columbia, arrived at church to find that a fire had broken out and they would have to worship somewhere else.
The black congregation met in the facilities of several churches in the area who offered help. Then Kenny Anderson, pastor, received a phone call from fellow pastor Mike Dawson.
Mike Dawson already knew of the situation of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist. Anderson called him the very morning of the fire to ask him for prayer.
Dawson and Anderson have known each other for about 20 years as they have both served Baptist churches here. Dawson is a retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia. Anderson was a regular vocalist for an annual women’s event held by First Baptist. Also, the two churches held joint services together.
So it was natural for Dawson, who is now interim pastor, Pleasant Heights Baptist Church, Columbia, and church leaders to invite Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist to meet at their facility. Pleasant Heights has a large, new facility.
Anderson thought it would work out because Pleasant Heights worships at 9 a.m. and Mount Calvary worships at 11 a.m.
The situation has not only worked out but has been a blessing, said Anderson.
Sharing a facility has impacted both congregations, he added. In a joint communion service, deacons from both churches “were working together” and choirs “were singing together. … It was a picture of what heaven looks like,” stated Anderson.
He has heard and seen members of Pleasant Heights learn from the more demonstrative worship of Mount Calvary members.
The two congregations also joined together recently for a benefit for Tim Anderson, Kenny’s brother, who is ill and needed help with some expenses. About 400 folks attended from across the county.
Another reason the two churches have worked well together is that they are both on cable TV and, thus, can use the same equipment. In fact, Pleasant Heights staff have recorded services for Mount Calvary, noted Anderson.
Of course, the situation also has helped the Anglos and African-Americans see the “brotherhood and sisterhood” they share, added Dawson.
“This just happened real naturally and it’s been a real joy,” said Dawson.
Pleasant Heights isn’t helping Mount Calvary Missionary “to make a big thing or to create headlines out of bringing people together,” but certainly “some racial harmony has come from it,” noted Dawson.
Anderson concluded, “It’s about working together. This community has always come together.”
African-American pastors lead predominantly Anglo churches
Two predominantly Anglo churches in Columbia are currently being led by African-American pastors.
First, Northside Baptist which draws about 150 to Sunday morning activities, recently called Willie McLaurin as interim pas tor. McLaurin is special assistant to the executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Ledbetter reported he has heard positive things from church members about their new leader.
Second, Immanuel Baptist Church, Columbia, a multicultural congregation including Anglos, Hispanics, and African-Americans, is led by Dwight Church. The congregation has a majority of Anglos.
Church has served the congregation for five years as pastor and been a member for another eight years. He and his wife joined the church when they were the only African-Americans there.
Church said he joined the white church because God called him to be a reconciler between the races after experiences at a Promise Keepers rally in 1995.
What struck Church during the Promise Keepers rally and on the bus ride there and back were the relationships formed between Anglos and African-Americans who represented several churches. Plans were made to continue those relationships but that did not pan out, recalled Church.
What he experienced as men of all races got together and got to know each other “overwhelmed me and I wanted more. I was so excited I was about to bust. I thought, ‘We’re missing the boat here.’ ”
Also, at that time he and his wife, Marilyn, were looking for a new church home.
God led them to join Cornerstone Baptist Church in Neapolis, a community located between Spring Hill and Columbia. After Church was called as pastor, the church changed its name to Immanuel Baptist.
What has happened at Immanuel Baptist has been led by God, said Church.
For years it met in a former restaurant facility. Just one of the demands of the situation was making arrangements and relocating to another church for baptisms.
Church challenged the congregation to find a permanent facility. One day a member told him about a former church facility for sale. Amazingly, the pastor as a child had attended church activities in the facility. Also it was located in a multicultural community and was affordable.
Immanuel bought the facility and paid it off in two years because we “don’t believe in debt,” explained Church. Immanuel didn’t hold fundraisers to raise money, noted the pastor. Part of what the congregation did was, along with members of the community, renovate the facility “from the inside out,” noted Church.
“We tithe and we roll up our sleeves and we get the job done.”
Today Immanuel Baptist is seeing people’s lives changed such as the new Hispanic members who are former Catholics.
Another amazing event here was a marriage conducted by the pastor on the Saturday before Easter. Then the new bride was baptized on Easter.
“What brings people together is the truth,” explained Church.
“When you communicate the truth, unity is a natural by-product.”