GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — More than 60 years ago, Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. said the most segregated hour in America is 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings. He was referring to the racial divide in our churches.
For most churches in America, his observation still rings true. In a country where we once had segregation by law, it has –in some places — become segregation by choice. But not everywhere. At Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Greensboro, Sunday mornings stand out.
At Prince of Peace, you’ll find people of all races, ages, and gender orientations.
“If we’re worshiping God, if we’re saying this is the body of Christ, this is a picture of what we think God’s kingdom is going to look like. You know, we know that’s not all one kind of person,” said Prince of Peace pastor, Matt Canniff-Kesecker.
This church was the first in the North Carolina Synod of Lutheran Churches meant to be centered around traditionally African American religious practices. Because of that, the flow of service is slightly different from what you would see in a traditional Lutheran church.
“We’re part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That’s the national ELCA Lutheran church, and that is an overwhelmingly white, European descent, Christian denomination. And so for starters, this is different in being it’s a racially diverse congregation,” said Canniff-Kesecker.
Besides the different faces you’ll see at this church, their music, and worship style are different as well. The mix of people is intentional, and it’s one of the things that keeps people coming back.
Hunter Haith is one of the charter members of the church. He’s been around since its inception.
“Coming here, and having that mixture of people from all backgrounds is what I think the church should be. I think that’s what the world should be,” Haith said.
Haley Gabrielle is South Asian-American and says diversity was an important factor for her family in considering a church home.
“We have felt most at home in spaces where it’s a multi-racial church that is not just multi-racial but is actively addressing racism at the same time. So that is something that I feel like Prince of Peace is doing really well in sort of the year that we’ve been here,” Gabrielle said.
Prince of Peace is tucked away in Greensboro’s Warnersville community, which is a predominantly Black neighborhood. Keeping this in mind, conversations about issues like systemic racism and its daily effects are mixed in with the teachings of the Bible.
“We don’t do like an official anti-racism training for white people or anything, but I feel like just being in this space and being in relationship with others. It kind of forces that to confront, you know, because there’s a different way of being,” Canniff-Kesecker said.
Accepting the assignment to lead this church 5 years ago was a conscious choice for Pastor Matt.
“I grew up in a white environment, and didn’t really question that or recognize how overwhelmingly white it was until I got to a certain age, and then once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And I’m kind of uncomfortable now only being in monolithic spaces,” he said. “I was drawn because, you know, experiences in my own life have led me to really value racial diversity, diversity of all kinds, new experiences. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve lived and existed in increasingly diverse spaces to where that really has become a core value for my family and I,” he said.
Pastor Matt and other leaders at Prince of Peace are changing what society says that church is supposed to be, and making it reflect the world they want to see.
“If you don’t know a person, you won’t get to know them if you are separated from him, and not have an opportunity to sit down. And what better place to do that than in worship? When we all — those who are Christian — profess their faith and belief, then what better place to be together than here in the church?” Haith said. “That’s the first thing; make them feel welcome when they walk in the door. And then we let God take care of the rest.”
Prince of Peace Church welcomes anyone to join them for services on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m.