Race relations is a topic a lot of people avoid in conversations, but two church congregations that are 87 miles apart tackle the topic head-on.
Pastor Jay Stewart and Pastor Derrick Hawkins met one another four years ago.
“I needed somebody to pull the potential out of me. I was in the process of taking over a very traditional church by the name of the House of Refuge Deliverance Ministries in Greensboro,” Pastor Derrick said.
“I know the camera doesn`t show it, but I am getting older,” added Pastor Jay. “It`s my heart to father people and to coach.”
Some thought this relationship between the new pastor of an all black church on the east side of Greensboro and the founding pastor of a predominately white church in suburban Charlotte was odd.
In 2016, Pastor Jay announced the churches would merge.
A few days after the announcement, a Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott. The shooting sparked demonstrations and violence around the Queen City, and exposed racial tensions the region has still not recovered from.
“So it became very obvious to us that with that as a backdrop of this announcement I had just made that God wanted to write a better narrative and that really has been what God has been doing over the past few years,” said Pastor Jay.
The Refuge campuses became even more intentional about racial reconciliation.
“We`ve had to sit down and have conversations that were a little uncomfortable and conversations that were a little tense,” Pastor Jay explained.
“I feel like we create divisions. And some things it just takes sitting down and getting to know each other,” shared Pastor Derrick. “And I feel like if we can look past, sometimes, the racial divide and really see you have something to offer me and I need that from you.”
These pastors say their members have become more honest and transparent about race, pre-conceived ideas, and prejudices that they may not have realized they had, in order to create unity.
“So even having a conversation and being able to say we`re putting aside our differences of skin color and saying we`re going to come together and worship the same God because that`s what it`s all about, that we made a conscious decision to put God over our race,” Pastor Derrick said.
“We`re human beings,” said Pastor Jay. “We were all created for a purpose. And we will accomplish much more, we can do far greater things if we`ll learn to celebrate the differences we have and lock arm in arm.”
The pastors say at no time was the unity of the refuge family on display more than after April`s tornado. That tornado destroyed The Refuge – Greensboro`s building. All the Refuge campuses came to Greensboro to serve the community. They served more than 500 people in two days.