Those attending worship greet each other during the passing of peace.
“Eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America,” is a quote often attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and two United Methodist congregations are taking on the challenge to dismantle this unfortunate, yet undeniable reality. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, 86 percent of American churches have no significant racial diversity. However, two coastal congregations have entered a covenant to pursue a different future.
Christ United Methodist Church of Long Beach, a predominately white congregation, officially merged with St. Paul United Methodist Church of Pass Christian, a predominantly black congregation, in hopes to reflect and serve their surrounding diverse community. The celebration of this unification happened Sunday, December 4 at St. Paul UMC in Pass Christian during their 10 a.m. worship service.
Rev. Guy Wimberly, pastor of merging congregations
The two churches actually began worshipping together as one congregation, in one location, under their new pastor, Rev. Guy Wimberly in July. The now merged St. Paul UMC is a part of Wimberly’s first charge serving as clergy. Wimberly shared that the two congregations have really taken initiative to get to know each other and he is excited to be a part of and witness everyone doing something new.
“Both congregations experienced what every church has experienced post-COVID—so many of the normal patterns of the church ceased to exist and there has been a restart,” said Wimberly. “We’re excited about the opportunity to do something new, and I’ve heard people say, ‘nobody is going to come here for the first time, look out in the congregation and say, ‘I don’t belong here.’”
Joel Hurr, (pictured right), one of two lay leaders at St. Paul UMC joins the musician in leading worship through song.
This is intentional not only in the makeup of the general congregation, but also with the messaging throughout the sanctuary and the church’s new, united leadership. The first sign visitors see when entering the house of worship says, “coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.” Additionally in the pulpit, there is a call to “love one another” on a stained-glass window. Christ UMC’s lay leader, Joel Hurr and St. Paul UMC’s lay leader, Lelia Hollins now both represent the entire congregation as co-lay leaders.
“From the surface, the two churches may look different, but when you really get down to it—our worship—we’re all the same,” explained Hurr.
Hollins shared Hurr’s sentiment, as well as some benefits of working together.
Lelia Hollins, one of two lay leaders at St. Paul UMC participates in worship service.
“We are one church,” said Hollins. “Also, when I first met him [Hurr] and he said that he was lay leader at Christ, I welcomed him with open arms because I knew he would be there for me, and I would be there for him and we share this.”
Amidst this celebration, Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., episcopal leader of the Mississippi Area, was the guest speaker during this worship service, which also marked the last message he delivers as resident bishop before retiring December 31, 2022. Entitled “Never Alone,” Swanson’s message came from Psalm 37:23-26, and was a reminder of how, as believers, we can trust each other and walk together in the midst of the unknown, all the while knowing that God is with us.
In this season of Advent that celebrates new beginnings, the newly merged St. Paul UMC embarks on a journey of new birth in disciple-making.
Click here to see more pictures from this momentous occasion.
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