The Day a Black Man Came to Our Church

This is a story taken from my memory.  The story happened over 30 years ago when I was a young teen or preteen. I tell it as I remember it.

My church was a growing church in the western outskirts, but within the city limits, of Birmingham, Alabama. The church was located across the street from Green Acres Elementary School. The church was built when I was only eight years of age. I have vivid memories of working along side my dad as we helped build our new church—which was needed after outgrowing the previous facility.

The church was my home. Our family was there Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. Because of my parents’ involvement in the church, which included my dad being the song leader, we usually were early to arrive and late to leave. On a typical week we would probably show up at least a couple of times more than just for the three primary services.

Our church was a growing, evangelical, Bible teaching, missionary focused church. We were taught to love Jesus and follow the Word of the Lord. Our lessons were from the Bible. We welcomed missionaries as they came to speak and even sent out our own missionaries into the all the world. We loved each other and were taught to love the world. We thought we did.

I remember the first black students in our school. I remember the first black teachers. One, Mr. Cephas, my seventh grade science teacher, was my favorite. I remember when our white neighborhood began to have black families move in. Yet, what I remember most, along these lines, was the day a black man came to our all-white church.

I can’t remember ever seeing a black man come to our church before that Sunday morning. Pearl-lee, however, I do remember. It’s amazing that I remember this kind black woman who cared for us in the church nursery. She was at church every week in our old facility, but I don’t think she ever joined us in the worship service; she took good care of the youngest children.

The black man came into the sanctuary—that is what we called the auditorium—walked up the center aisle and sat on the front pew.  I don’t know if his choice of a seat was planned, but I do know he didn’t go unnoticed. It sure got my attention. A black man was in our church!

The fact that I even remember that day suggests that the relationship between blacks and whites was not right. It was shocking to see him come into our church. Sure we would say we loved all people, yet I was very well aware of the racial tension in our community and the views held by both whites and blacks of one another. Even in a loving, caring and missional church, the comments about blacks were not ones that would have honored Christ. Therefore, on this Sunday morning when a black man walked in, it was BIG news.

Immediately, as the service began, our pastor called attention to the man sitting on the front row. The Preacher walked down the two steps to the sanctuary floor, walked over to the man and welcomed him with the right hand of fellowship. They spoke privately for a brief moment. Our pastor then publicly welcomed him and the man joined our pastor on the platform as he gave a few words of greetings. The congregation applauded. We had welcomed a black man in our church—really only into this one service.  We had expressed love. We had reached out. We had started building a bridge.

From what I recall, the man had come to our church to say thank you.  Our pastor had started a newspaper mailing to our community, sharing the truth of God’s Word in the four or five articles that graced each issue. This man had been receiving these mailings and was grateful for the messages.  Therefore, he showed up this Sunday to say thank you. It made us all feel good.

This was a starting point. Sadly, my church never got it. It never mastered the transition of the changing demographics of the community. Several attempts were made, but it never happened. The chasm of diverse worship styles, cultural differences and the prevailing racism of the day kept the church from being able to bridge the divide. We would get very excited over the thrilling reports from our missionaries being sent to Africa, but the challenges of reaching those of a different ethnicity in our own community were too great. Over the next couple of decades the once vibrant congregation dwindled to a point where it could no longer exist. The wonderful facility I helped build became a part of the Birmingham City Schools.

Today, I am grateful that my children worship in a congregation where blacks, Asians, whites, and Latinos worship together. Yes, the congregation is predominately white and not as culturally diverse as its surrounding community. Yet, I am grateful that when someone of a different hue walks in, my children don’t notice.


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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Debra Coffeen on March 10, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Jack, thank you for this article. It is a beautiful story. As I read this article, I am once again reminded of our complex society. In many aspects our world has vastly changed for the good and for the not so good. As far as racially there have definitely been some changes; however, I personally feel the changes have not been all that significant, in spite of having elected a black President.

    I am a black female, married to a Caucasian male. My husband and I attend two churches together, both twice a week. We attend his home Church on Sunday and Tuesday (him more Tuesday’s than I) and my home church Saturday and Wednesday. We are very active in ministry at my home church and sometimes he teaches the men’s bible study on Tuesday nights at his home church.

    I have attended my home church for approximately 11 years and it is what my Pastor (a wonderful Hispanic man, married to a lovely Caucasian woman) would call multi-cultural which he defines as a church which represents multiple races and cultures in various ministries of the church and being a 10,000 membership church we have at least 20 to 30 help ministries and that many or more interest groups.

    My husband’s home church which I have attended for 6 years, has a membership of approximately 350 and is what my Pastor would call multi-racial, which he defines as a church with different races and cultures that do not represent the church in the various ministries.

    In my opinion, 30 years later I believe that although both churches mentioned above are compromised of different ethnic groups, there are still significant predjuices. For example, my home church being approximately 65% black, is often faced with some people not wanting to join or remain members due to the church being predominantly black, the pastor being animated, the worship to emotional, the preaching in your face, stepping on your toes and the overall traditional black style.

    My Pastor is quite deliberate, purposeful in trying to assure that our church does not represent just one ethnic group and he not only encourages but also allows many gifting styles to be expressed, as long as they in line with God’s Word. I believe these are just some of reasons the church has grown so large in just 15 years; I know they are what drew me. Unfortunately, for some it is just simply not enough or perhaps it is too much? These reasons have been told to me personally by Caucasians as well as Hispanics as reasons for leaving the church, even upon joining and/or attending for a few months and in some cases a few years.

    My husband’s home church which is 90% or more Caucasian, has a very difficult time attracting and keeping blacks, Hispanics as well as other ethnic groups; in my opinion due to the traditional Caucasian style of singing, preaching, and the different giftings and ethnic styles not being encouraged or allowed to be expressed. This is my opinion as no one has ever told me why they left my husband’s church; I am simply going by observation and experience.

    For myself I believe the different worship, preaching, teaching, and gifting styles of the two churches I attend play a small role in the reason I have not left my home church and attended my husband’s church solely but I cannot speak for him.

    We would like to think that racial tensions are pretty much of the past; however, they are quite alive today and most often the biggest racial divide still today, are in God’s house or amongst “the believer.”

    When someone of a different hue walks into a church today they usually go unnoticed which was not the case 30 years ago; however, in my opinion the gap still has not been bridged nearly enough.



    • Posted by jackwbruce on March 10, 2010 at 7:06 am


      Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough response. You make some great points and offer some insightful questions. I hope to share some of my thoughts on these in future blogs. As for now, I look forward to that day in Revelation 4 & 5 when those from every tribe, tongue and nation, in perfect harmony, will gather together in worship of God.



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