“United We Serve”
While we ate lunch from the back of my parents’ SUV in the parking garage, my friend shared “It’s a message I’ve been waiting to hear for a long time.” Pastor Henry Wright spoke from the heart that morning for the Southwestern Union’s “United We Serve” at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX. The emphasis for the day was on bringing “The Disease of Division” (the title of Wright’s message) to an end.
As I scanned the audience, I’m not sure that the event’s promotion had reached all across Houston. Surely we had more SDAs of both colors around this gigantic city. Maybe intermixing only happens at General Conference. Nonetheless, the programming was on point and a harmony displayed amidst our diverse leadership. On one side there was the Southwest Region Conference, and on the other the Texas Conference, better known as the “black conference” and the “white conference”, respectively.
The balance of musicians, representatives, and program participants was interesting to analyze, but more profound was the penetrating conviction Pastor Wright’s message left the congregants with. He started with Acts 6:1 with the basic premise: increase people increase problems. Wright elaborated, “The devil has only one antidote for growth – division.” While there may be lines of division on our conference maps, they ought not be in our hearts. He analogized our experience to the church in Acts. The first five books show the church experiencing rapid growth, and then in Acts 6 “[The] devil says I’m sick of this,” Wright preached. Read it.
Wright continued to educate with the biblical truths, and refused to shy away from the pathetic reality of racial tensions within our wonderful church. To stomach the blunt message, “I make you smile so you can take the bitter pill of truth,” said Wright. The message continued after lunch and your choice from a wide variety of workshops. His evening message entitled, “The Beat Goes On” picked up where we left off in Acts. Wright reiterated, “The book ends with a comma…We need to walk out of this building with a comma not a period. We didn’t end anything, we just are beginning something…You and I must finish the book of Acts. We must write the closing chapter.”
That is what the Houston area intends to do in the coming year. It was more than inspiring message, with informative workshops. “United We Serve” was the beginning of a mentality shift that will be required if we have any chance at finishing the work as the real “true” church of John 17:21 “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
The convention had a separate program from Spanish-speaking members, and several guests including Ernie Castillo, Milton Rodriguez, and the A’Men Quartet. Workshops covered a wide range of training seminars from Children’s Ministries, Photography and Video to Education, Religious Liberty, and Disabilities Ministries. Several more workshops were offered in both English and Spanish. The day ran for roughly 12 hours ending right around 9pm with a mini-concert featuring the A’Men Quartet and Forever His.
This issue of organized division on the basis of racial lines has always been of particular interest to me. Seeing an effort like this at the local level was encouraging. Five years ago, I had the opportunity to study the history behind this issue and interview both conference presidents. At that time, it seemed the collapse of racially divided conferences was far off. While March 20th, 2010 may not have been the demise of religious segregation, at least we came out and admitted it from behind the pulpit. The first step to breaking down these walls is admitting we are powerless over this disease of division, and meeting on neutral turf at the foot of the cross.
I’m curious to know what your experiences are. What colors do you see on Sabbath morning? Does it make a difference? Is this exclusively an American dilemma? Is race only an issue at the local conference level?