Greensboro churches working together to discuss race relations

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Just because something is in the past doesn’t mean we are all past it.

And that is part of what attracted Diane Moffett to St. James Presbyterian Church when they were recruiting her to be their new pastor.

The church was founded by formerly enslaved African-Americans 150 years ago.

“I was so excited because I know during that time, it took a strong people - I mean, you could've been lynched still, you could've been done real harm if you were bold – ‘uppity,’ if you will,” says Rev. Moffett, herself an African-American. “So I always tell the congregation, you were created on the edge, you were created with edginess. We've got to really try new things, we've got to really to make sure that we are advocating for the health and vibrancy of God's people in the community.”

Meanwhile across town, the pastor of First Presbyterian had never forgotten his experiences growing up white in eastern North Carolina.

“I grew up in the 50s and 60s and when I was 10 years old, the Klan burned a cross in my minister's yard,” says Rev. Sid Batts. “It had a huge effect.”

As the congregation at St. James was celebrating its century and a half of existence, there were some things they discovered that not everyone knew, including how they were founded, in part, by people who had been members of First Presbyterian when those people were still slaves.

“This is the first time in our history - the 150-year-old history of our congregation - that we're acknowledging that how we started was unfortunate, at best,” says Moffett. “And that this was not the best witness of our faith and now we have an opportunity to correct it. So part of it is lifting up, educating and allowing the spirit to work in the people so that our hearts will be changed and our behavior with it. So, that is my hope.”

That has manifested itself in projects that the two churches are doing, together, including a group that meets regularly to talk about race and other issues, and a combined service at First Presbyterian on Oct. 29.

For Batts and his congregation at First Presbyterian, it is a reminder that there is more work to do.

“I think what people had thought for a long is that we'd made such progress on issues of race,” says Batts. "And in the 60s in particular, the church had a major role in, particularly in white America, in changing the hearts of people about race. In recent decades, that role of the church had fallen to the wayside, primarily because I think people thought it was an issue we had made such progress on, particularly with the election of Barack Obama.”

The two pastors are eager to do the work that is left to do, working together.

“We think the groundwork is being laid for some really important working conversation and relationships,” says Batts.

See what that is – and the gesture that brought Moffett to tears – in this edition of the Buckley Report.