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A black and a white church are poised to serve as a major symbol of unity amid chaos in North Carolina

Posted October 3

Amid intense protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, after the death of Keith Lamont Scott — an African-American man who was shot and killed by police — a predominately black and a majority-white church are serving as a symbol of unity.

The House of Refuge in Greensboro, North Carolina — a black church — is set to officially merge with The Refuge, a 2,200-member nondenominational church, The Christian Post reported.

It's a move that Jay Stewart, lead pastor at The Refuge, said has been in the works for many months — well before intense protests unfolded this month in the streets of Charlotte over Scott's death.

After announcing the merger just two days before the riots, Stewart said he believes the timing isn't a coincidence.

"The Lord knew and I don't think it is coincidental," Stewart told The Christian Post. "I think it is a great opportunity for that message to not only be spoken but to be demonstrated."

He added, "People don't want to hear someone talk about unity, they want to see it in action."

Stewart believes another "great awakening" is on the horizon, but that spiritual rejuvenation will come after unity starts to take root. And with the two churches preparing for a fascinating merger, he believes the public will see firsthand how both churches are seeking to unify.

"If we are going to see a spiritual awakening ... there has to be unity first," the pastor told the Post.

The House of Refuge will officially become The Refuge of Greensboro when the merger is complete on Nov. 6. The process started after the church's pastor, Derrick Hawkins, reached out to Stewart a few years ago for guidance and advice amid a leadership transition.

That relationship continued, with Stewart later asking whether the House of Refuge would have interest in potentially joining forces with The Refuge. The decision was made to set the merger for this fall, with the timing coincidentally coming just as racial tensions heated up in Charlotte and across America.

The decision was announced to both church congregations over the weekend, and was met with applause and excitement, the Post reported.

Speaking of historic and contemporary divisions, Hawkins said Sunday at 12 o'clock is "the most segregated hour in America" and that he and Stewart are hoping to "break the barrier," believing that they've been called by God to do so.

"When I was connecting with Pastor Jay and we just started thinking about what God was doing, man, I felt like this was a picture of heaven coming together and worshiping together," Hawkins told the Post. "I don't feel like it should be about race. It should be just about the kingdom of God and lifting up the name of Jesus and just walking in the faith together."

In speaking about "the most segregated hour," Hawkins was appealing to a statement Martin Luther King Jr. once uttered about the racial divisions in churches across America.

"At 11 a.m. Sunday morning ... we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation," King once said.

But has the issue of church diversity been remedied decades after the civil rights leader made this proclamation? Not really, it seems, as 86 percent of congregations are still primarily comprised of one racial group, according to a 2015 Lifeway Research survey.

And 53 percent of respondents in that same survey disagreed with the statement, "My church needs to become more ethnically diverse."

Regardless, the latest show of unity in North Carolina comes after Deseret News reported about two other churches in Macon, Georgia, that are making similar efforts to foster reconciliation.

The houses of worship — both named First Baptist Church — are nearby one another, but, until recently, the congregations had barely interacted. One of the churches is predominately black and the other is mostly white; the two, which were originally one church, split 170 years ago as the battle over slavery was heating up.

Now, nearly 200 years later, the pastors at both houses of worship are coming together. Rev. Scott Dickison, the 33-year-old pastor at the white church, and Rev. James Goolsby, the 59-year-old pastor of the black church, aren't merging the congregations, but they're hosting meals and joint events to show unity.

Read more about their story here.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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