Neighbor churches, split on race lines, work to heal divide

Source: Associated Press

By RACHEL ZOLL

MACON, Ga. (AP) — There are two First Baptist Churches in Macon — one black and one white. They sit almost back-to-back, separated by a small park, in a hilltop historic district overlooking downtown.

About 170 years ago, they were one congregation, albeit a church of masters and slaves. Then the fight over abolition and slavery started tearing badly at religious groups and moving the country toward Civil War. The Macon church, like many others at the time, decided it was time to separate by race.

Ever since — through Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, desegregation and beyond — the division endured, becoming so deeply rooted it hardly drew notice.

Then, two years ago, the Rev. Scott Dickison, pastor of the white church, and the Rev. James Goolsby, pastor of the black church, met over lunch and an idea took shape: They’d try to find a way the congregations, neighbors for so long, could become friends. They’d try to bridge the stubborn divide of race.

They are taking up this work against a tumultuous backdrop, including the much-publicized deaths of blacks at the hands of law enforcement and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Next month, they will lead joint discussions with church members on racism in the history of the U.S., and also in the history of their congregations.

“This is not a conversation of blame, but of acceptance and moving forward,” Goolsby said.

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