In 2015, the United Methodist Church noted that race relations was the top issue facing the denomination. Saint Paul graduate, Rev. Jo Mead, decided that she no longer wanted to just talk about it, but instead to act and form a real relationship with another congregation.
She contacted Pastor Eric Williams at Brotherhood Presbyterian Church. Eric’s church was listed as non-white and it was near where University United Methodist Church church was originally located before it moved to 21st Street across from Wichita State University. “I wanted this to be neighborly,” said Jo. The two pastors corresponded by email, phone and then planned to meet for lunch. She went to the local restaurant and began to wait for Eric to arrive.
Unlikely Lunch Partners?
“I asked if there was anyone waiting. First the staff said no. I waited again. Then I asked if there was anyone waiting for Jo or an Eric thinking they may have names confused. They said one man was waiting but he was not waiting for me. So I left.”
Later, Pastor Eric called and wondered why Pastor Jo hadn’t shown up for lunch. “We had a good laugh that the two of us were not seen by the restaurant staff as potential lunch partners. We met again the next week at the same restaurant, and the staff was apologetic and kind.”
The two pastors arranged for a pastor swap, with Williams preaching at University UMC on November 15th, 2015 and Mead scheduled to preach at Brotherhood Presbyterian in April 2016.
As part of the partnership, each congregation tied ribbons to trees on their respective church properties and in the yards of members. The ribbons were to show their support of real relationships with – and not just tolerance for – people of different races, religious beliefs and cultural differences. Instead, those differences, as well as the shared love for Christ, are being celebrated.
Local TV stations covered when the ribbons were tied on trees at City Hall while the mayor spoke about the importance of real relationship. A community rally was held on November 22nd, 2015 at Century II. People made commitments to how they would live out “Beyond Tolerance” across their communities.
The two congregations are planning collective mission opportunities and a social chili supper.
“It’s when we break bread together that we enter into real relationship,” Pastor Williams said.
Truly the two congregations enjoy having fun. The chili supper has gone from a shared meal to a competition between pastors to see who can make the best chili. The best chili will be voted on with money that will be donated to a shared local mission making it a win/win for everyone.
As this congregational partnership has been formed, Pastor Jo Mead has often thought back to a seminary class led by Dr. Kris Kvam called Engaging World Religions.
“I had the opportunity to be in conversation with members of the Isalmic community of Kansas City. This experience taught me to open myself to opportunities of learning and growing together with the hope of making room at the table for all.”