Six congregations, three services, one motive

Kentucky churches intentionally cross cultural lines for the Gospel and their communities

By Myriah Snyder

Published: May 15, 2018

Pembroke & Glasgow—In 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. said in a television interview, "I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o'clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America."

His sentiment was echoed recently by Andy Haley, pastor of Pembroke Baptist Church. Hailey feels that "the church should be setting the example in coming together and be unified."

So his predominantly Caucasian congregation joined with a local African-American congregation, St. Bethlehem Baptist Church in Pembroke, for two joint worship services. Both were held earlier this year, one hosted by each congregation.

A few months later, four churches in Glasgow—Coral Hill Baptist, First Baptist, Immanuel Baptist, and Harlow's Chapel Baptist, two predominantly Caucasian and two predominantly African-American congregations, came together for a joint Easter Sunday service. More than 1,300 people attended the two hour "celebration of the victory Christ secured on our behalf at the cross and proven at the resurrection," Ray Woodie, pastor of Coral Hill, said.

Ray Woodie, pastor of Coral Hill Church; Keith Rowlett, pastor of Harlow's Chapel Church; Michael Rice, pastor of First Church; and Jeremy Atwood, pastor of Immaneul Church, all in Glasglow, held a joint service with their congregations on Easter. The combined service is part of a bigger, emerging trend where churches are crossing racial lines for their communities and the Gospel.

"Really, I don't think God ever intended for us to have a Black church or a White church," Haley said. "I think he intended for us to be 'the church' and we really need to be setting the example as the body of Christ on what the body of Christ should look like."

On a Sunday in January, the Pembroke service was held in Saint Bethlehem's sanctuary. The churches joined together for Sunday School and stayed together for a fellowship meal afterward. Haley preached for that service.

The second service in February was similar, but it was held in Pembroke's sanctuary. It featured a combined choir, and Rowland Butler, pastor of St. Bethlehem, preached. Both services saw more than 85 percent of both congregations in attendance, and as far as Haley could tell, everyone reacted positively to it.

When Haley and Butler decided to do this, they also bore in mind that the partnership should extend past the Sunday morning services. Both congregations are now looking for active ways to partner in ministry in the community, including a joint community cleanup.

Haley said their goal is for people "just truly coming together and being the hands and feet of Jesus together as one body under two different names."

The Glasgow service was held in a local high school gymnasium. Woodie encouraged members of all four churches to not only worship together, but to work together on this effort.

"We share a passion and a desire to see God do something unique in our community. That's what has given rise to the opportunity for us to join forces, join our faith together in a Sunday morning worship this Easter," he said in a promotional video, speaking on behalf of all four lead pastors.

The theme of the day was "the story"—creation, the fall, the rescue, the restoration. Michael Rice, pastor of First Baptist, and Jeremy Atwood, pastor of Immanuel Baptist, shared how they think this "story" can impact a church and an individual.

To fulfill the Great Commission and make disciples together, there needs to be fellowship that leads to relationships, Keith Rowlett, pastor of Harlow's Chapel Baptist, noted. "The greatest impact of it all will be that we get to know each other, fellowship with each other, be friends with each other and even start a relationship with each other."

"Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death," the Glasgow congregation read corporately from Ephesians 2:14-16. The service also featured members of the choirs of all four churches joining together, and all four lead pastors speaking on "the story."

"The one thing that everybody in this room has in common is not the color of our skin or the money in our pocket, where we live, where we work, or where we go to school. Everyone in this room, myself included, we're all sinners," Woodie said, before extending the call to respond to the Gospel during the invitation.

Haley shared that the theme of both Pembroke services was "a glimpse of heaven on earth."

"I truly believe that's what heaven is going to be like. Every kindred, tribe, tongue and nation are going to be in heaven. And if we're going to worship in eternity together, we probably ought to get used to doing that here on earth," he added. (WR)