In an earlier post I suggested that “racial reconciliation” is a misnomer (to reconcile is to restore friendly relations between parties who used to be together but who have become separated: in the U.S. blacks and whites were never together in the first place). I recommended that “racial harmony” is a more reasonable goal.
Here’s a snapshot of what Racial Harmony looks like.
And here’s the story behind the picture.
About a year ago Northminster’s youth pastor, Tiont Williams, came into my office with a proposal about summer youth camp. Instead of traveling to be a part of a denominational camp, he wanted to invite a youth group from a friend’s church to join our youth for a week of urban ministry. Youth and chaperones would camp out in our church building. They would engage in mission projects during the day and enjoy recreation and worship in the evenings.
Tiont’s best friend from seminary, Amber Harris, is minister to youth at Fairfield United Methodist Church in High Point, NC. Fairfield’s group is made up of white suburban youth. Northminster’s youth are mostly urban black teenagers.
After months of planning, the Fairfield group arrived for supper on Sunday evening of the hottest week of the year. I was there to greet them, and my one word description of the first evening of camp is awkward. The Northminster youth were at one end of the gym shooting basketball; the Fairfield youth were gathered around a Wii at the other end.
When it was time for supper, Tiont and Amber stood before the group and announced that one of the goals of the week was to get to know each other. So when they sat down to eat, each table was to be a mix of the two groups. The youth followed instructions and ate together. Then they returned to their respective ends of the gym. Awkward.
On Monday morning they set out into the gosh-awful heat to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Club, and Embrace Richmond. Every day that week they painted, picked up trash, mentored elementary school students and learned what it was like to serve God by serving people in the city.
Did I mention that it was hot? Nothing bonds people like common suffering! And throughout the week the deep friendship between Amber and Tiont was contagious.
I returned for worship on Tuesday evening and could see that the groups had begun to mingle as friendships were developing. On Friday evening as they sat for worship, they were one group, black and white all mixed together. Saturday’s departure was filled with sadness as new friends were driving away/being left behind.
Both groups learned about urban ministry that week. And we all learned about racial harmony—singing our different notes and hearing them blend to the glory of God.
This weekend Northminster’s youth are traveling to High Point to visit their friends from Fairfield UMC. They are going to tour Winston Salem State University and Wake Forest University. They will renew friendships. And my guess is that when they worship together on Sunday morning, they will be a picture of racial harmony.