*In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “11 ‘o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America.”
The civil rights leader’s famed quote was in reference to of course just how segregated church services were, and in many cases still are, across the United States.
Hoping to bridge this wide gap, in 2016, Pastors Derrick Hawkins (African American) and Jay Stewart (Caucasian American) decided to merge their racially separate congregations into The Refuge Church in North Carolina.
The recently released book, “Welded: Forming Racial Bonds That Last,” co-authored by the pastors, chronicles their relationship and what led to this racial reckoning. (Buy book now).
“We are living in a time where there still is much division, anger, and confusion in our nation especially as it relates to racial unity,” Pastor Stewart said in an EUR phone interview. “The bottom line is that we have a very unique story and God has chosen to write a better narrative in the midst of all the confusion and anger.”
Pastor Stewart continued, “So, we have an opportunity to share our story but to also give practical guidelines for how people can build relationships with people who look different than they do. The subtitle of the book is ‘forming racial bonds that last’ and that’s really the reason we’ve written this book.”
Pastor Hawkins blames the media partly for the racial strife and sees their story as a positive alternative.
“I think there are so many different narratives going on across the media,” Pastor Hawkins told the EUR. “There are so many things that the enemy is trying to spread. We wanted a better narrative and not just a better story and to let people know that there are amazing things happening with the body of Christ that are positive.”
Guidelines in the book to start racial healing include practicing understanding others, respecting others’ opinions, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and committing to unity.
“We seek to understand more than we seek to be understood,” said Pastor Stewart. “So, we have to lay down our own agenda and really come to the table with the goal of understanding the other person. Secondly, we value the relationship more than being right. We live in a day where everybody feels that they have a right to their own opinion. One thing we’ve learned is that we lay down our rights because the relationship is more important.”
Pastor Stewart added, “We also have to break out of our comfort zones and be willing to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of others and if we do that we discover the most greatest and thrilling adventures in our relationship with Christ.”
Pastor Hawkins said of people coming together, “I live by the motto in Ephesians 4:3, just making unity a priority. We know that we don’t have the ability to create unity, but it is our job to project unity. Pastor Jay always said we want to take every opportunity to make unity a priority but also preserve it.”
“Unity doesn’t mean there’s an absence of disagreement, but we have the ability to protect unity at all costs,” added Pastor Hawkins. “And there’s a way to look at your own echo chamber to see what you can do to make sure you are building healthy relationships with people who don’t look the same as you.”
The recent presidential election and election in general showed that most white Christians favored Donald Trump and Republicans. This support has led many in the black community to believe that white Christians overwhelmingly support racism and other ideologies that divide the races. The pastors said political views should have no place in the church.
“The kingdom of heaven trumps any political party,” said Pastor Hawkins. “Our job is to always align people to the kingdom and those things that we know are biblical truth. That’s why Ephesians 4:3 is so important.”
“We’ve only chosen to focus on the things that we share in common,” said Pastor Stewart. “And those are the things that unite us in the word of God. Bottomline, our loyalty is to Jesus Christ and our loyalty is not to some political party or to some person and that’s the thing that unites us.”
Pastor Stewart and Pastor Hawkins met in 2014 and two years later the two merged their churches. The Refuge Church has three campuses in North Carolina- Kannapolis, NC (main campus), Salisbury, and Greensboro. Plus, an international location in Brazil.
Pastor Stewart heads the main campus, while Pastor Hawkins leads the Greensboro location. They often lead together in the church as one unit.
Here is a video clip regarding the merging.
If you have not noticed, the pastors are also of different ages. They maintain a close father-son relationship because, “I’m just incredibly cool,” said Pastor Stewart. “I just have a heart for the kingdom and age doesn’t matter to me. God just knit us together in a really special way. It’s never been an issue for me, and I don’t think it’s been an issue for him.”
“I grew up around my grandmothers and older individuals and I love gleaning from the wisdom from the generations,” Pastor Hawkins said. “There’s no future without the shoulders of the previous generations. Outside of white, black, political differences, chaos, and challenges, this man has poured into me and my life has been better because of his core and his relationship with the Holy Spirit.”