Our small, inner-city church was in the midst of some powerful meetings. By this time we had been in extended meetings for many weeks. We just ended a very powerful, special Saturday night service. I was in the back of our rented, converted bar building, soaking in some after glow when I heard the front door open and a loud voice ask, "Where's the pastor?" I heard, "He's back there." Within seconds, the "Bishop," an African-American, pastor from the church down the street was pumping my hand and saying, "I just had to meet you, I've heard about good things going on here!" We small talked for a bit and agreed to have lunch together one day during the following week.
At lunch the "Bishop" invited me to preach and minister in his church the following weekend, during a special "Convocation" that they were holding. I and many of the people of our church (all white) showed up for the special service. What a service that it was! The people of the host church ate up my ministry. They were like ministering to a bunch of hungry sponges. To me, they seemed to be starving for God. Corinne and I began to minister to the people, laying hands on them and praying as the Lord was leading us. All went well, until Corinne reached out to lay hands on one guy, a leader in the church, when he suddenly reached out and shoved her hand away. He said, "I do not allow women to minister to me!" Corinne was taken aback some having her ministry flow interrupted. However, within seconds, the hunger that she was detecting from the rest of the congregation got her right back into the flow.
After a few more meetings together, one day the "Bishop" suggested that our two churches merge. It seemed that our people liked him and his people really liked Corinne and I. A few weeks later, we did merge. What a mistake!
As we were a inner-city ministry, our vision was solidly on reaching out to the poor and homeless. We would have hot dog cook outs on the street in front of our building. We gave away a lot of food and had many homeless people attending our services. They loved the freedom and the moving of God in their lives! The "Bishop" assured me that our homeless ministry could continue after the merger. He told me of how his church had a dinner every Wednesday evening before the mid week service and that our people would fit very well into that ministry. After the merger, we attended our first Wednesday evening dinner. My family, as well as all those from our church who could attend, ate with the homeless and others in attendance. I couldn't find the "Bishop" anywhere and asked about where he was. I was told that he and his family were in his office. Shortly, I saw a serving cart being rolled by a couple of Sisters into his office. I asked someone what was on the cart and was told that it was some ribs and special food that the gals had worked on all afternoon preparing for the "Bishop's" family. I thought it interesting as everyone else, including my family, ate beans and rice.
A couple of weeks later, during a Sunday morning service, the "Bishop" took the offering. Wow! Did he ever take an offering! No one was ever allowed to write a check. Everything was done in that church with cash. I guess that particular Sunday there was a very large financial need. He told the congregation that no one was allowed to leave the building until that need was met. He asked the ushers to count the offering right then and report back to me. It fell short! He stopped his message and berated the people and shamed them until they gave enough to meet the need in subsequent offerings. The need was met!
The people of his church fell in love with Corinne and I and our people. We fell in love with them as well. As a result, soon I could tell that there was something strange going on with the "Bishop." With the merger I was made Associate Pastor of the church. About 5 weeks into the merger, the "Bishop" preached on loyalty to the pastor. During that message he said, "This church can only have ONE PASTOR!" It was obvious that he was threatened by the relationship that was budding between us and his group. Two weeks after that message, I was called into his office just prior to the Sunday morning service and told that I was no longer needed in that church, basically I was fired!
That afternoon I met with those of our congregation, told them what was going on and we all decided to leave the church and re-start our old ministry. Which we did the following Sunday morning. Our "merger" lasted an entire 7 weeks! What a mess!
The local newspaper followed our merger very closely. The local TV station even had reporters at our merger service. What hurt me more than anything, after news of the merger failure became public, the local paper contacted the "Bishop" and asked what had happened? He told them and the paper reported that I was let go from the church staff because I was racist! That hurt me more than anything ever could. For me to be called a racist hurt more than if someone had stuck a knife into my heart!
Yet, the pain that Corinne and I felt for years was that of a great group of people, that we loved beyond measure, being deceived to stay under a ministry of control, manipulation and religion. Later I discovered that so many "Black Churches" operate in that same fashion. It was then that I developed a burden to see my Black brethren set free from religion.
Now that I understand the freedom and liberty of New Covenant Grace, I really desire to see people of all races set free and understand what the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. During the "merger days" I didn't understand Grace very well, but I sure do now! So, I'm spreading the word.
Grace and peace!