‘We all have one God’ — Mission Mississippi brings communities together

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2018

There were hymns, slow and reverent. The white folks knew the words and sang them, voices high and sweet, and the black folks said “amen” at the end.

There were gospel hymns, with drums and guitars and a piercing piano. The black folks stood and swayed and hollered, and the white folks couldn’t help but smile at the Jesus energy.

Then, Mission Mississippi ended its annual Community Thanksgiving Gathering with “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” a hymn written in 1887 in Hartselle, Alabama by gospel composer Anthony J. Showalter that has been a staple in the hymnals of both black and white churches for a century.

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Everyone knew those words, and they stood together and sang about the fellowship, the joy divine, the pilgrim way, the Lord so near. Then, they prayed the hour-long service at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church to a close, hugged each other in the aisle and left on a cool Sunday night in harmony, black and white.

“It’s very important to do this kind of fellowship with one another,” said Patrick Hardy, pastor of St. Paul. “We may disagree, but we can always find common ground in Jesus, and that’s something we need to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.”

Around 50 people attended the Sunday service of “Living Reconciled,” which celebrated Mission Mississippi’s goal of promoting racial reconciliation and its 25-year anniversary. It marked the organization’s fifth year of having a presence in Brookhaven, and its fifth year was a hard one.

Racial tensions in Brookhaven have grown hotter this summer and fall following the deaths of two white police officers in a black neighborhood and the events that followed — the majority-black Forest Hill High School marching band’s distasteful show a week later, outcry and demands for retribution against the school from elected leaders, calls for leniency that were ignored by the Mississippi High School Activities Association, rage and fury and racism on social media.

The distrust between the races was kicked up again earlier this month when U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith remarked about a “public hanging,” a comment that reminded many of Mississippi’s racist past and started a whole new round of finger-pointing.

“Obviously, there are problems in our community, just like in any community. But humans, with God’s help, can triumph over tragedy,” said Rev. Anne Matthews, head of the local Mission Mississippi chapter. “Events like this give us hope.”

Mission Mississippi President Neddie Winters said during the message of “Living Reconciled” he would take the term “racial reconciliation” out of the English language if he could.

“To me, it’s redundant to Christians,” he said. “The Bible tells us, twice in Romans, we have been reconciled. We learned in school when a word has ‘ed’ on the end, it’s past. It’s done. Christians have passed the state of being reconciled, and we need not live like it and act like it.”

Winters read all 22 verses of Psalm 103 and challenged the worshippers gathered to live it out.

“God is not surprised we have conservative and liberals. He’s not surprised we have diversity, he’s not caught off-guard we have these classes and denominations — he just never wanted that for us,” he said. “Your job is to lead folks to the Lord. You can’t lead them to the Lord if you’re fighting over all these other things.”

St. Paul member Debbie Corley said current events seem to be pushing Americans further apart. The only way to reverse the trend is through worship, she said.

“We play together, we work together, but our most segregated places are our places of worship,” Corley said. “Society doesn’t demand we worship together. Anything like ‘Living Reconciled’ that brings the races together is something we need, and we’re just gonna have to continue to pray for it, and that’s all I know to do. And you have people out there praying for it. You do.”

Former Brookhaven alderwoman Shirley Estes said anger over the tragic events in Brookhaven have a tenancy to “grab and hold” people and affect their ability to witness.

“The heartbreak of that won’t go away — it’s part of who we are now, part of the fabric of our community. We have to remember who our creator is,” she said. “We don’t have different creators, we all have one God. With all the strife and dissension and conflict in our world today, it behooves us to stand together, those who know who the Lord is.”

Jacqueline Tobias, St. Paul’s minister of music, said a personal relationship with Jesus would be necessary for all people to trust, love and live together.

“I do appreciate what the word says in Psalm 133 — how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. What’s what the church of Heaven is going to be like,” she said.