Faith leaders from various churches and denominations in Tennessee’s two largest cities came together to promote unity and instill hope.
Both events, which were a week apart in July, occurred amid escalating racial tension and violence across the nation.
“With where we are as a country, it is imperative that we come together as clergy, as different denominations,” said Gregory Fontus, a member of Riverside Church’s pastoral staff, and one of the main organizers of the Interfaith Day of Prayer his church hosted in Nashville, Tennessee.
Along with Seventh-day Adventists, other participating denominations were Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Lutheran, and United Methodists. After the worship service, there were prayer seminars, a churchwide fellowship meal, and outreach activities in the community.
Dawn Bennett, past vicar, Memorial Lutheran Church, said the Day of Prayer was spiritually enriching, and needed to perpetuate a mindset of unity.
“It was wonderful to be invited as a white woman to provide and offer prayer,” said Bennet, referencing the predominantly black Riverside congregation. “I think it sends a public message that as believers in Christ, that we can come together as one body, and we can worship together, and we can find those mutual offerings of the Good News through the Gospel.”
Fontus agreed. “It wasn’t about us or them; we were all together celebrating Christ,” he said. “I think that was so powerful and impactful.”
A week earlier, Longview Heights Church in Memphis, Tennessee, hosted a Preach Out. Several pastors, accompanied by their choirs, took turns preaching from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., for what turned out to be a day of high unified praise.
In addition to receiving inspiring messages, Preach Out organizers said the event was an opportunity for members of the community to meet faith leaders they can connect with when problems arise, whether they be personal or communal.
“There are going to be some problems,” said Alex Horton, Longview Heights pastor. “But, where do you go when you want to talk (about them)? I hope our church can be one of those areas.”
One of the Preach Out speakers was Edward Stephens Jr., bishop of Golden Gate Cathedral. He is a strong believer that “transformation can take place in the community.”
At the MLK50 Conference in Memphis last year, Stephens talked about the powerful influence faith leaders can have when they work together to create change.
“The only way change takes place is if we as leaders, and I’m talking about pastors particularly, get to know each other,” said Stephens, adding the connections can help better identify problems and solutions, which “affect families in our communities.”
Joe I. Grider, D.Min., pastor, ministerial director, and one of the Preach Out organizers, agreed. He is friends with Stephens and has preached at his church, and vice versa. Grider said there can never be too many programs that bring different churches/denominations together, and he extols messages of hope and unity.
“With what’s going on locally and across the country, those messages are needed more than ever,” he said.
is a former reporter for The Associated Press. He is also author of the book, Finding the Good, which was featured on National Public Radio.
South Central | November 2019