Two pastors who had a chance encounter years ago and remained connected are taking the race conversation to a new level.
One of the pastors is Black and leads a growing church in Greensboro. The other pastor is white and leads a megachurch in Kannapolis. They’ve tackled racial tension head-on for years, and now they’re taking their message and their story global.
Sunday, pastor Derrick Hawkins and pastor Jay Stewart worshipped together during the Refuge Church-Greensboro’s first service in their sanctuary since a tornado damaged the building in 2018. The two met when Hawkins drove to Kannapolis to check out The Refuge Church one Sunday in 2014. They hit it off immediately and their churches eventually merged.
“I wasn’t looking at it, ‘Hey, this is a white pastor,'” Hawkins said. “And most people said, you know, ‘How can you be pastored by a white guy in these times?’ And I’m just, you know, at that point, it’s just about the spirit of God.”
Their purpose grew after a police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte in 2016.
We introduced you to these two in 2018. A lot has happened since then.
“I think the conversation has always been important. But I think because of the instances were spread out, they get buried,” Hawkins said.
“When the things have happened with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and all of these things it took. To me, it says, man, we are a broken, divided nation. Humanity is broken and divided and something needs to happen here,” Stewart said.
He says the Holy Spirit’s job is to create unity, and it’s their job to protect it. They’ve had some really raw and tough conversations where they’ve been changed, connected and challenged.
“We operated on the principle and the principle is, is we seek to understand more than we seek to be understood,” Stewart said. “And I think if more people would enter conversations with that in mind, we can we could really move the ball down the field a lot more than what we have. So in every conversation that we have, my priority is that I want to understand what’s going on. I want to understand him better. I want to understand my Black brothers and sisters better. So I seek to understand more than I seek to be understood.”
They say the only way there will be progress is through relationship. They know this first-hand because they’ve seen it and they live it, and their congregations are living it.
“So regardless of what happens with the things that are taking place in our nation, we can have the hard conversations because I know his heart and I trust that. And he knows my heart and he trusts that. So, we can have the difficult conversations. Knowing we’re going to walk away. We’re going to be OK,” Stewart said.
“Just acknowledging and hearing each other’s heart has helped us to navigate that this season, because there’s a lot I mean, everywhere you walk is a land mine of some sort. So, you have to be careful what you say or what you don’t say,” Hawkins said.
Over the summer they were asked to write a book to share their story with the world. As Providence would have it, they’d already started writing.
“We had no idea,” Stewart said. “I mean, obviously, there’s racial tensions and those things are around all the time. But nobody knew it would escalate to an all-time high this summer except God. And so that’s why I believe the Lord wanted this book out.”
“It’s going to change the narrative that’s been written in our nation and in our churches. Not only our churches, but businesses and corporations all over the world,” Hawkins said.
“We lay out some very practical guidelines,” Stewart said. “We very transparently talk about the struggles that we’ve had, the struggles that our churches have had and how we’ve arrived at a place we’re not there, we’re not perfect, but we’ve arrived at a place that we can celebrate our differences and not just tolerate our differences. And that’s key. That’s key in marriage. That’s key in a business relationship. It’s key in church relationships.”
These two pastors and authors say their goal is to bring hope to the nation. And they believe God has allowed them to do just that. Their book, Welded: Building Racial Bonds that Last, comes out next month.