Vicki Brown

Vicki Brown

Vicki Brown is associate editor of Word & Way, in which this story originally appeared.

Friday, 16 August 2013 14:39

Reflections on a fast-moving year in CBF

Past moderator Keith Herron looks back on what he describes as a hectic-but-rewarding period in CBF history that included selecting new leadership and streamlining the way the Fellowship is structured. 

Friday, 26 July 2013 17:47

Giving it up for Jesus

What does the Bible mean by “dying to self?”

Monday, 17 June 2013 16:31

Baptists re-tool annual gatherings

Declining attendance, rising expenses and rapid advances in communications technology cause some to contend the Baptist annual meeting is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Technology, records requests and legal avenues exist in gaining information on religious groups, but these may come with difficulties.

Friday, 24 May 2013 01:57

Using secrecy to control

While Baptists' congregational polity seemingly lends itself to transparency, denominational bodies and ministries often fear and resist it.

Friday, 24 May 2013 01:58

Do churches operate on need-to-know?

Churches should remember that telling the truth and trusting the people is the best policy, experts say.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013 13:42

Baptists, Muslims meet for dialogue

Central Baptist Theological Seminary co-sponsored the last of three Baptist-Muslim dialogue events held by schools with ties to American Baptist Churches USA. The goal of the meetings was to create an atmosphere where the two faith communities can live in peace and promote common good in American society and the broader world.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013 18:00

Lawsuit against Baptist camp dismissed

Windermere Baptist Conference Center staffers might be able to concentrate more on preparations for the summer season and less on lawsuits following a court ruling March 21.

As its neighborhood shifts, a congregation often chooses to sell its facility and relocate. Many times, church's members have moved to a different part of town and want a building close to where they live.

Members either give away or sell the facility to another church in the neighborhood, usually one that ministers to the area's largest ethnic group.

Blended community

A few congregations, however, choose to create something new by merging two distinct churches. But creating a blended Christian community takes work.

St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights in Louisville, Ky., drew national media attention when the historically black St. Paul Missionary Baptist and the predominately white Shively Heights Baptist merged to create the blended congregation in August 2009.

Pastor Lincoln Bingham of St. Paul Baptist reached out to Shively Heights' pastor, Mark Payton, when Payton moved to the area 26 years earlier. The two became close friends, and as more African-Americans moved into the area, the two began talking about ways to minister to their community.

The pair wanted to lead their congregations to minister. But St. Paul's didn't have the facilities it needed, and Shively Heights members didn't have the economic resources to cover the upkeep on its building. Bingham and Payton felt God showing them a merger would be the best way to reach a community of nearly 300,000 people—both black and white.

Merger hasn't been all that uncommon in the past 20 to 25 years, but often the result reverts to one primary culture, or a church will hold two distinct services to accommodate each culture. As co-pastors, Payton and Bingham have worked hard to lead the blended congregation to remain blended. 

Currently, the church's makeup is about 60 percent black and 40 percent white. While the community is predominately African-American, the racial mix of new members since the merger has been about 50/50, with a few Hispanics and other minorities joining, as well.

Pastors Lincoln Bingham (center left) and Mark Payton (center right), along with their wives, lead their newly united congregation in prayer in 2009. (PHOTO/David Winfrey)

The congregation works at keeping a blend, even in its programs and governance. All Sunday school classes have two teachers—one black and one white—who rotate responsibilities each month. Every committee has a balanced representation, and the pastor scheduled to preach isn't announced ahead of time. "They know who it is when they see the bulletin," Payton said with a laugh.

Members concentrate on ministry, with an organized evangelistic outreach every Monday night, Vacation Bible School each summer and an annual back-to-school block party. For the past three years, the church has offered a basketball league, attracting 500 to 600 participants and spectators each weekend during the season.

"We've really been amazed at how well it is working," Payton said. "We just tried to determine what God's will is. … We just don't think there's room for prejudice."

Slowly becoming one

Members of New Home Baptist Church in Kansas City believed God had called them to reach the unchurched in Kansas City. In 2010, the church had about 200 members, with about 75 percent African Americans and 25 percent other groups. But they quickly outgrew their building. To continue making an impact on the area, they needed more room.

The nearby Mount Washington Baptist Church had been a large urban congregation in its heyday in the 1960s. But by 2008, when Tom Renfro became pastor, the congregation had dwindled to about a dozen senior adults. "Our youth department was two people in their 60s," Renfro quipped. Everyone else had long been retired.

New Home's pastor, Clarence Newton, and Renfro began discussing possibilities. New Home needed the room Mount Washington had, and Mount Washing-ton needed a future. Members decided both visions could be realized by merging.

The new congregation, though, decided to maintain each culture's identity by offering two services—one traditional and one contemporary. The traditional service, which Renfro led, became the home of Caucasian members, while black members chose the contemporary service, with Newton preaching.

Last year, when church decided it no longer could afford two pastors, Renfro resigned. Both the traditional and contemporary services still are offered, with Newton preaching both services. 

Each has become a little more blended as older blacks have chosen the traditional service and young whites have moved into the contemporary worship.

The church has baptized more than four dozen people since the merger.

Renfro anticipates Mount Washington will become a predominately black Baptist church in the near future. 

"But overall, the merger has been a success because the building is being used, and the church is reaching people for Christ and moving forward," he said.

A retired Baptist pastor recently led to the collective bargaining table says “a generation has forgotten” how labor unions helped improve conditions for workers in the United States.

"Mine was the first generation of our family to go to college, and unions made that possible," said Rudy Pulido, who retired in 2008 after 30 years as pastor of Southwest Baptist Church in St. Louis.

Rudy Pulido

Pulido fought for social-justice issues while a pastor. He is former president of the St. Louis chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Now his activism has found new outlets. 

A call from the St. Louis-area unit of Jobs with Justice after he attended one of their meetings landed him on the organization's workers' rights board. Jobs with Justice is a national network of local coalitions aimed at bringing together labor unions, faith groups, community organizations and student activists to fight together for worker rights.

"Unions are like any organization or group,” Pulido said. “They always face the challenges of keeping their calling correct and without blemish, but they made the middle class possible.”

Area negotiators sometimes turn to Jobs with Justice for experts or other assistance. Recently, Shannon Duffy of the United Media Guild called the organization looking for a clergyperson to serve on a bargaining team that would seek higher pay for some workers with media giant Gannett Co.

Duffy said he wanted a member of the clergy because "they are not confrontational like civil rights activists."

Duffy said labor negotiations are “about power,” and how best to gain the upper hand. Typically it’s done in one of two ways -- creating solidarity among the workers or by getting the community behind the effort. In the past, solidarity was accomplished through strikes. "But today strikes don't usually foment solidarity," Duffy said, so he sought a way to tap into community.

Pulido said he nearly turned down the invitation to serve because he felt he didn't have enough experience. He did, however, have the “moral outrage” that Duffy was looking for. "I realized I can do this ... to protect my community," Pulido said.

Pulido and Duffy said a clergyman on the team caught Gannett management and its attorney “by surprise.” Throughout the experience, the retired pastor continually reminded negotiators to consider the company's impact on its workers and what a pay raise would mean to them. He even pointed out an axiom he learned in kindergarten: "If you don't have enough candy for everyone, don't bring candy to class," he laughed.

"We aren't in kindergarten," the Gannett attorney responded.

But by the end of negotiations, the firm conceded a raise to some of its lowest-paid workers. "I believe I made a little bit of a difference," Pulido said.

Duffy said the minister "was a definite asset," so much so that the United Media Guild recently honored Pulido and the bargaining team. "Usually, it's only the lead negotiator on both teams who does all the talking," Duffy said.

Pulido didn't participate with Jobs with Justice until after he retired. He said he isn’t sure he would have felt comfortable doing so as a pastor.

"Many pastors are more focused on the life of their church, rather than on the community," he said. "And the congregation sees him as their pastor, but they can't see that their pastor is a pastor to the community.”

Pulido said someone needs to stand up for the community, and he believes each congregation should ask itself, "What can we do?"

"Wouldn't it be remarkable if in our annual reports we said, 'Here's the impact we had on our community?” he said. “We stood up for this.”

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