Stories of rebuilding, healing continue in Alabama churches

Stories of rebuilding, healing continue in Alabama churches

Racial Reconciliation Sunday is Feb. 12.—

The world knows Selma for Edmund Pettus Bridge. They remember the tough times when lives were lost, but it’s possible few remember the stories of reconciliation, such as when black and white citizens joined hands to cross the bridge in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

But stories of rebuilding mark Selma these days, said Tom Stacey, director of missions for Selma Baptist Association. Reconciliation, he said, is constantly happening in the churches there.

“We’ve seen progress,” said Stacey, who was brought to Selma Association 20 years ago because of his experience in building bridges between white and black churches in Randolph Baptist Association.

“There are cultural differences, political differences — so many different variables,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s good and we’re making progress.”

There’s no formula for that progress, Stacey said. “I think it’s honesty and integrity and it takes time to sort through.”

The things that lasted, he said, began with events — getting together, being on programs together and trying to do pulpit swapping.

“But the places where we’ve seen real progress have been the long-term relationship building and not just (being) event focused,” Stacey said. “If you’re not willing to develop relationships, it won’t work.”

Plantersville Baptist Church is one place where those relationships have been developing for a while now, Pastor Don Stephens said. “Our community is small — we have a resident population of about 400.”

And it was there that a young African-American man married a young white woman in the church, found Christ and got saved, Stephens said.

“It’s a beautiful story,” he said.

The young man has been ordained as a deacon and is serving as secretary of the deacon body. He’s also served as the youth department director. The couple is raising their kids in Plantersville Baptist.

And it’s changed the climate of the church, one relationship at a time, Stephens said.

“There are four churches in town. We’re the only mixed race one that I know of. It’s working really well.”

Stacey said it’s a “refreshing circumstance.”

“To be dead center of the Black Belt and have 7 of our 24 churches with African-American members, four with
African-American deacons — we’re grateful for that progress,” he said.

Two of the association’s churches have black pastors — one a predominantly black church and one a predominantly white church in a changing neighborhood. One year the association had an African-American moderator, Stacey said. “We need their participation and their partnership and leadership.”

As an association, “sometimes we fail at it but we’ve had success,” he said. “Progress has been slow and it’s still slow. But it’s good.”

Winston Williams is one of those black pastors who reached across racial lines to help a dying church gain new life and reach its neighbors.

Water Avenue Baptist Church, Selma, was down to five members — four white, one black — when it called Williams to come help them start again in January 2016.

“It’s an old area and 100 percent of the people living in the area are black. There are a lot of drugs and poverty, and the crime is very high,” Williams said. “It’s allowed church members to say, ‘We’ve got to do something’ — they wanted to reach out to show their caring and concern.”

Now 35 to 40 people attend each service.

“Our plan is to revive the area if we can. We want to give them hope,” Williams said. “They are not people who grew up in church. They are on the periphery of the culture. Some of them have been shot at. Some have shot at others. But little by little we can tell the church is making a quantitative difference.”

And it’s all because a formerly predominantly white church reached across racial lines — and Williams reached back.

In February 2016, Fred Luter Jr., former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), said in a Black History Month video that issues related to race relations have not improved nationwide since the election of the first African-American U.S. president.

But, he said, the Church can lead the way in modeling reconciliation and be an agent of social change.

Luter — the SBC’s first African-American president — quoted a pastor-friend who he said phrased it this way: “America doesn’t have a skin problem; we have a sin problem.”

When the sin problem is resolved through faith in Christ, racial reconciliation follows, he said, noting the Church has both the responsibility and capability to model what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

That’s what Stacey said he’s hoping to see happen in Selma Association, one small step at a time.

He told a story of how the association’s disaster relief team was working in early 2016 in Pickens County.

“We were working there in a predominantly African-American community, and the people we were serving asked why there weren’t any black people on our team,” Stacey said.

He realized they had a point — the team was an important part of the association’s ministry and they needed more diverse involvement. So he came back and asked around in the churches to enlist more volunteers.

“In every way, we want to do our best to work side by side toward reconciliation,” Stacey said. (TAB)