How a White Congregation and a Black Church in North Carolina Felt Led to Merge After a Chance Meeting

Jay Stewart (R) and Derrick Hawkins (L) at The Refuge, North Carolina | The Refuge

In a time of deep racial tension in America, a middle-aged white pastor and a young black pastor — Jay Stewart and Derrick Hawkins — are sharing the story behind their unbreakable bond centered on their faith, which led them to combine their culturally segregated churches and become one.

The unlikely pair are leading the journey of racial reconciliation by example. In their new co-authored book, Welded: Forming Racial Bonds That Last, released by iDisciple this month, Stewart and Hawkins recount the two-year journey that led to the merging of Hawkins’ African American church with Stewart’s predominantly white megachurch.

“In 2014, Pastor Derrick came to a service at The Refuge after seeing our campus in Salisbury, his hometown,” Stewart told The Christian Post of how their unique bond began. “He approached me that day about mentoring him and coaching him as he prepared to take over the role of senior pastor at The House of Refuge Deliverance Ministries in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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Hawkins recalled, “My wife asked would I take my daughter to get her hair done, on a Saturday morning might I add, it was my typical rest day. I obliged her request! This trip led me to a sign in downtown Salisbury, North Carolina, where The Refuge had a campus extension.”

The church’s sign caught Hawkins’ attention and God would have it that the two would meet and begin a friendship and partnership that now can serve as an example for churches to follow.

The pastors began meeting monthly, during which they “established trust” and a “great friendship.” In 2016, they decided to go beyond the norm and merge their completely culturally different ministries. The House of Refuge became the fourth campus of The Refuge and Hawkins serves as campus pastor of that Greensboro location.

“It was a God thing; we just followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the outcome was a merger,” Hawkins commented. “Prayer led each step, decision, meetings and also many challenges. We talk about this a lot in our book.”

“We have always operated under a few key principles in forging relationships that will last,” Stewart added. “First, we seek to understand more than we seek to be understood. Second, we’ve learned to appreciate and not just tolerate our differences, leveraging them for the sake of the relationship. We know we are better together.”

Both men of God say it’s imperative that churches looking to merge follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

“The established foundation has to be relational; we spent over a year and a half building the foundation of our friendship. That is where you learn and discern a person’s motives and heart,” Hawkins emphasized. “From there, follow the leading of God and educate yourself as much as possible.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jeannie Law

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