It’s been long said the most segregated day unwittingly happens every Sunday -- black people go to black churches and white people go to white churches, and that’s just how it is.
Two Florence churches have responded by intentionally breaking that tradition.
First Assembly of God --a predominantly white congregation, and the New Life Assembly of God—a majority black congregation, have made the decision to permanently merge under one roof and new name: The Assembly.
The Rev. Burton A. Ross, a black man in his early 50s and pastor of New Life Assembly, will lead the new congregation. The pastor of First Assembly, Richard Denham, will assist Ross and work closely with church leadership.
Ross said that with the nation more divided than it’s been in decades, it is past time for Christians to break societal norms and unite beyond the rhetoric.
It’s a “lead by example” approach that’s rare in modern Christianity, especially when dealing with race relations, he said.
“When Christians say we need to show love, rarely are we talking about physically coming together and breaking the barriers between culture and ethnicities and truly becoming one in Christ,” he said. “We’re tired of the empty conversations, tired of churches saying but not doing.”
Both Ross and Denham recognize the challenge of bridging cultural divides and creating a new outlook. However, they said, that’s the whole purpose and people are open to it.
Out of the nearly 300 people in both churches, just three voted “No” to a merger.
“We believe this could start a trend,” Denham said. “I think people have the desire to live life together, actually together. Not just in a sense of being in the same room but actually understanding each other and connecting with their needs.”
The bond between New Life and First Assembly dates back to the late 1980s when Denham invited Ross’ father from the Caribbean Islands to pastor a church in Florence. Since then the two churches have remained close in the ministry.
The seed for a racially united church was planted then and occasionally brought to the table over the years, but church leaders felt the timing wasn’t right.
New Life Assembly was destroyed by a fire on Palm Sunday this year, and the pieces started to fall into place.
Their first service as a united church starts at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the former First Assembly of God at 2525 W. Palmetto St. in Florence
“Everything we are doing we believe is a call from God to join together and be a new example of what people can expect from Christians,” Ross said.