Kentucky Church to Celebrate 20 Years of Black-White Unity on January 3

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“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King

On Sunday mornings for more than 100 years, black and white Methodists in this Oldham County community praised the Lord in separate, segregated churches less than 300 yards apart.

Their messages were the same, though not always often applied in daily living — love Jesus with all your heart, mind and soul and the person in front of you.

Their major church rituals were similar — worship services with singing, prayer and preaching, baptisms for their babies, marriages for their young adults and funerals for their dead with the promise of everlasting life.

In 1968, with the formation of the United Methodist Church, the two churches started sharing the same pastor. The white pastor served both churches, usually preaching at the white church at 11 a.m. and at the black church at 12:30 p.m.

The churches were just three blocks apart in distance but much farther apart in personal relationships.

When talk emerged in 1995 of uniting the 150-or-so-member white church of La Grange United Methodist with the nearby black church of Kynett United Methodist, which had about 20 members, to build a new church building, each church initially clung tight to their identities.

“At first, I didn’t like the idea,” said Ida Beaumont, who had attended Kynett for more than 60 years. “I didn’t want to give up my memories of my church. But I realized you can serve God anywhere. I got on board with the idea.”

Not everyone did so enthusiastically.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Beaumont. “Each church lost members. Some whites didn’t want to go to church with blacks and some blacks didn’t want to go to church with whites. But I’ve never regretted it, no, no, no.”

At 10:30 a.m. Jan. 3, the Rev. Terry Faris, the pastor who brought the two churches together to form Covenant United Methodist Church in La Grange, will preach at a 20-year anniversary celebration of the uniting of the churches.

“Change is always hard,” said Faris. “Our bishop at the time (Robert Morgan) often said the only person who likes change is a wet baby. But it has worked and should be applied more in other churches.”

Faris, a Maysville native who retired in 2008 after 44 years of pastoral ministry and is now living in Wilmore with his wife, Judy, said he would ask people who opposed the idea of uniting the two churches what they would think about a Kroger in La Grange for whites and another one for blacks.

“They would say that would be unnecessary, crazy and not financially smart for Kroger,” Faris said. “Then I would ask why in the world should we have segregated Methodist churches in downtown La Grange. They couldn’t give me an answer.”

The National Congregations Study, a survey run by Duke University, shows that churches in America are slowly becoming less segregated.

“Many are still segregated, but there have been some good, positive increases in recent years in integrated churches in this country,” said Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religious studies and divinity at Duke.

Nearly 20 percent of American churchgoers were in all-white congregations in 1998, the first year of the national study, said Chaves. That dropped to 11 percent in 2012, the most recent year data were collected, he said.

There are 350,000 to 400,000 churches in America, said Chaves.

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SOURCE: Lexington Herald-Ledger, Jack Brammer

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