April 2018, Learning For Life

Churches Take First Step Towards Radical Healing

Churches take first steps towards racial healing

Pastor Gerrit Dawson of First Presbyterian Church and Adraine and Albert White of Abounding Love Ministries.

Two years ago, the city of Baton Rouge simmered with racial tension after Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot and killed by two white police officers. The shooting made national headlines and set off weeks of unrest. Barely a week later, Gavin Eugene Long ambushed and shot six police officers, killing three.

In this climate of fear and violence, pastors throughout the city were comforting their congregations and urging people to stand united rather than divided. But the hurt and anger flowed along racial lines, and finding common ground was easier said than done.

Pastors Gerrit Dawson and Albert White, already longtime friends, took a leap of faith and decided that racial healing had to start somewhere and it might as well start with them.

Dawson is the senior pastor at the mostly white First Presbyterian Church in downtown Baton Rouge. White is pastor at Abounding Love Ministries, a mostly black congregation in the northern part of the city. Their friendship had led them to partner with each other for vacation Bible schools, Habitat for Humanity projects, and Bible studies. But the two congregations had never really mixed with each other on a personal or social level. And that seemed like a logical next step.

Their first step was to identify congregants who were willing to participate. Then “matches” were made among black and white families, who took turns visiting each other’s homes, sharing meals, and getting to know one another. Those first meetings had their awkward moments, but many friendships have been formed and the feedback from both sides has been positive and encouraging.

“In the beginning, some people worried that they would be uncomfortable in someone else’s home or that they wouldn’t know what to talk about,” said Pastor Gerrit, “but in fact, once they engaged with each other, it was easy … because after all, both had Christ in common.”

They called their campaign 50 on 50 because they hoped to enlist 50 families from each church, but because of the smaller size of Abounding Love Ministries, 20 was a reasonable compromise. Looking back, says Pastor Albert, the project almost didn’t happen.

“For the announcement (and very first night) of the program, we invited the First Presbyterian group to our service at Abounding Love,” he said. “But that was the night the city started flooding so we had to cancel. Then our church flooded, and of course, the people at First Presbyterian came and helped us over the next few weeks. So we ended up developing relationships even before the program started.”

While the First Presbyterian volunteers were helping to restore the Abounding Love facility, Pastor Gerrit invited White’s congregation to the First Presbyterian services for the next few weeks. That invitation led to history in the making.

“My wife Adraine gave a sermon there,” Pastor Albert said. “It was the very first time an African-American woman had done so in that church. And I gave communion to the congregation along with their elders. That was another first.”

The home visits have expanded to include field trips, outings, and serious discussions. “We all got together and went to Donaldsonville to visit the River Road African-American Museum,” said Pastor Gerrit. “It was an amazing experience, and afterward, we went out to eat and had a heart-to-heart discussion about slavery and its impact on all of us, black and white, even today.”

“That trip was something that many of our white friends would never have done on their own,” said Pastor Albert. “But it was truly special to share an experience like that together.”

Today, the affection between the two pastors has flowed to their congregants, who have learned how to look beyond the color of each other’s skin and really see the person inside. Now, among the two churches, new friends ask about each other’s families, their health, their needs.

“We are all valuable,” said Pastor Albert. “We all have something to offer … and we are all so much alike. We just need to encourage each other to step outside of our comfort zones whenever we can.”

For more information about Abounding Love Ministries, go to aboundinginhim.org, or call (225) 356-4441. For more information about First Presbyterian Church, go to fpcbr.org, or call (225) 387-0617.

Family Life, November 2016

How to Be Great

by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis
Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis, The Refresher
Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis, The Refresher

Being great begins with being grateful. The definition of grateful is to feel or show an appreciation of kindness and thankfulness. The most important gesture that you can do for someone is to be kind. Being kind is learned behavior. Sometimes people can only be what they were taught. However, the Bible teaches us to practice love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, which are fruits of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) Which fruit(s) are you practicing?

If you see a panhandler on the side of the street, are you kind to them?

Are you consistent in your giving? 

Are you practicing self-control with various situations? 

Do you pray, and then worry?

Do you genuinely love your neighbor?

Are you negative all the time?

Are you resting peacefully at night?

Are you joyous over small things?

Respectfully enter into the spiritual territory for five minutes a day by yourself or with a partner. By doing this, situations get easier to cope with.

Read this story:

My husband and I had an opportunity to attend a marriage conference a few months back. There we learned and were challenged to be a part of a social experiment called “The Partnered Prayer Challenge.” A partnered prayer challenged is when you commit to pray intimately with your partner for five minutes a day for 40 days. I was reluctant at first because I didn’t want my husband to know that I was talking about him to God like most wives do, I’m sure. We pray, but we pray separately.

So day one of our five-minute prayer was a little awkward to say the least, and by day two I was wondering if I was really showing up for the challenge with being truthful with him and God about how I actually pray and the issues I pray for. Why is that? We’re married for goodness sakes! By day five, I was fully committed to the challenge and reverted back to the scripture in Matthew 18:20 which says, “For where two or three gather together in my name, there am I with them. So why not make my request known unto God and to my husband even if my concerns are about him? We stayed committed to the challenge and finished. Not only did we finish, but our children finished as well. We are better communicators because of this and decided to keep it going. It’s become a way of life for our family now. The fruits of the spirt can be learned and practiced through this prayer challenge. He allowed our eyes to open one more day to be great and grateful.

This partner prayer challenge is a tool to enhance your marriage and other relationships. How many times have you sat back and said things that you wished for your spouse or loved one to do, or simply asked for them to understand you better? Well with this challenge, it gives your spouse and/or loved one a chance to see your intimate heart, your Godly heart. This is not just for marriages – this works for other relationships as well. So, let’s be great together!