A lesson in brotherhood

Published 6:13 pm Saturday, July 18, 2015

As I prepared the message I would share last Sunday with the members of Open Hands Christian Fellowship, I came across the following quotation from Pastor Sam Emory of Apostolic Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church in Merced, Calif.: “There’s no such thing for me as a black church. There’s no such thing for me as a white church. The church don’t have no color. The only color the church is, is red, because of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

I don’t know much about Sam Emory or about the theological teachings of his church. But I do know this: I love this sentiment.

As a white speaker preparing to speak in front of a small African-American congregation at Open Hands, I had considered sharing Emory’s quotation as part of my message last week. My wife advised against it, and in the end, the Emory’s words didn’t fit the message, anyway.

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But the truth of those words kept coming back to me as the service progressed and we settled in to worship God.

I was there at the invitation of my friend and brother in Christ, the Rev. Charles Leavell, and he made sure that my wife and I (and news editor Tracy Agnew, who turned out to watch me preach my first sermon) were treated as honored guests.

The 20 or so congregants were gracious, kind and generous. They could hardly have demonstrated the love of Christ more genuinely, and we could scarcely have felt more like family among the folks in our own church.

Of course, that’s the kind of reception one should expect from a church, and — for the most part, at least — that’s probably the kind of reception most folks, black or white, would receive today visiting just about any church in Suffolk. Followers of Christ would have a tough time finding biblical support for treating sincerely intentioned visitors with anything other than love and respect.

What strikes me, however, is how much of a role intentionality must play in bringing together Christians who worship in “white churches” and “black churches.” Many of us get comfortable in our largely monochromatic churches and miss the incredible blessing of a service that blends people of all hues and backgrounds.

That’s what I loved the most about Pastor Leavell’s invitation for me to speak at his church. Even before he was aware that I had a ministry project I wanted to share, he had already said he wanted me to speak. He was being intentional about his desire to bridge the racial divide that still separates many Christians on Sundays.

That kind of thinking will be what finally helps bring America together, as well. And how appropriate it is for it to be demonstrated first in churches across the land.

Thank you, Charles Leavell and members of Open Hands Christian Fellowship, for the opportunity to lift hands and hearts together in worship last week. And thank you for setting a fine example of brotherhood, an example from which our city and our nation could take important lessons.