Church Fire Leads to Relationship
Randy McKinney, Pastor, The Memorial
Shock and disbelief. These words describe my state of mind as I watched flames run the roof line of the sanctuary of The Memorial Baptist Church, Greenville, NC, during the later hours of Saturday, January 13, 2007. As I arrived on the property early Sunday morning, smoke continued to penetrate my nostrils. My feet cut a path through a parking lot littered with wet debris. My eyes focused on the yellow caution tape surrounding a shell of a building and a flame ravaged steeple. Certainly, it could have been much worse. However, soaking in what would later be determined as 3 million dollars worth of damage at the hands of an arsonist is overwhelming. It was not what I expected during my first year as pastor.
Later that Sunday morning, the congregation gathered near the picnic shelter on the back of the property. Numbness characterized our assembly as we read Scripture, offered prayers, and lifted our voices in song. As we were ending our time together, I began to notice some unfamiliar faces. People were joining us in our time of crisis. Not only did they come by our side, they embraced us, cried with us, prayed with us, and encouraged us. I soon discovered that a congregation from our city had ended their time of worship in order to join us in our time of need. The scene that unfolded broke the numbness that imprisoned our minds. As tears began to flow down my face, Pastor Sidney Locks wrapped his arms around me and spoke words that reached deep inside my soul. Through the love of these sisters and brothers in Christ from Cornerstone Baptist Church, we became keenly aware of the presence of God.
Later that afternoon, The Memorial Baptist Church assembled for a time of worship in a local house of worship. During the sermon, a truth needed to be proclaimed: "Had the shoes been on the other feet, we would not have done what Cornerstone Baptist Church had done for us that morning." You see, Cornerstone is a predominately black congregation and The Memorial is predominately white. Sometimes the truth hurts. However, sometimes a declaration of the truth can begin a journey of healing and reconciliation.
During our time of displacement, Cornerstone graciously allowed us to utilize their facilities on two Sundays. Likewise, I have preached for Cornerstone and Pastor Locks has preached for The Memorial. However, the greatest part of this journey for me has been building a friendship with Sidney. We both agree that God has brought us together for a purpose. We have discerned that the purpose includes bridging the racial divide that exists in our community. In the near future, we hope to begin exploring this purpose with people from our two congregations. In the meantime, we are intentionally building our relationship. The truth of Joseph's statement to his brothers is becoming our reality: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish now what is being done" Genesis 50:20 (NIV).
Randy McKinney serves on the CBFNC Racial Reconciliation Ministry Team. The Ministry Team invites you to share your stories of relationship building across the racial divide. Send them to Laura Barclay at email@example.com.