It was a six-week discussion entitled Racial Divide in Pinellas County. Already considered sister churches due to a long history of shared projects, worship, and support, members of both churches met from October through November 2020.
Facilitated by Program Coordinator Cheryl Fairies, seven people from each church brought their life experiences to the table. Anticipation and a type of social holiness were in the air.
One of the first activities was to share an item representing each person's background or culture. This gave all the participants insight into each other in a visual and personal way.
For example, Black participants' experiences about being afraid as young people to drive through parts of Pinellas due to the KKK presence brought the reality of our local history to bear.
The group viewed information about housing discrimination, which led to studies on the Black community's inferior employment, education, and healthcare. National and local data served as a springboard for sharing how the Clearwater community is seen through the two lenses-both Black and White.
The goal is to have a collaborative group service project.
Poverty, healthcare, and employment issues rose to the top of the list as major concerns in Clearwater. Heritage UMC members joined with Mt. Olive parishioners in community outreach for the hungry.
Solid relationships always take time to build and deepen. The group agreed that one-on-one relationships are the beginning of understanding between communities. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an obstacle to nurturing closer relationships.
Ashley Holmes from Mt. Olive noted, "It was a humbling experience to bear witness and be a part of the unpeeling of perceived notions and taught lessons from our cultures."
There is group energy to be open-minded and open-hearted, to seek to turn this type of intentional conversation into a lifestyle.
"The understanding gained during the sessions will lead to our future work in breaking down racial barriers and loving all as God intended," she said.
Already these sister churches are moving closer to uplift our community through actions of social holiness spiritually. We pray for God's blessing and guidance in this endeavor.