Casual observers riding around Columbia County would probably think theres no shortage of churches. Just a drive down a two-mile stretch of North Belair Road, for example, passes a Presbyterian church, an independent church, a Methodist church, a Mormon temple and a Baptist church.
But seen through Carolyn Moores eyes, Columbia County is a wide-open opportunity for reaching the unchurched and unsaved through an effort that wont quite look like all the other churches on every corner.
See, in Columbia County - as in virtually every other community - there indeed are lots of churches. But on Sunday, people of all ethnic groups, those who otherwise live and work in often-diverse neighborhoods, self-segregate into monochromatic religious enclaves. White people go to white churches, black people go to black churches; Asians attend services with people who look mostly like them, and Hispanics seek similar ethnic sanctuaries.
Why do we do that? Partly out of tradition and habit; its the way weve always done it. Partly its because of lingering distrust between different racial and ethnic groups. Partly its because, in general, we tend to seek out people like ourselves to associate with.
Beyond that, I also believe we self-segregate in church for a more basic reason: just because we can.
Think about it: Our government-run schools are required by law to strive for ethnic diversity, keeping racial head-counts in their student body and in their faculty. Workplaces, especially those that do business with the government, are under pressure to produce and maintain a mix of colors and sexes in hiring and firing. Even private clubs, as Martha Burk demonstrated in her attacks on the Augusta National, are browbeaten to be inclusive.
But churches are a different story altogether. The sanctuary of a church got that name because it was seen as a place where people could seek refuge; in modern times, with a secular world that often assails public religious life, the private church has become an untouched oasis surrounded by government-enforced political correctness.
The result has been the generational perpetuation of a slave-era tradition, continued with the fervor of a God-given right. The government cant force us mix it up in church, so we dont. As a result, especially within black protestant and white protestant communities, those traditions have gradually become walls as each group has practically from birth come to believe they couldnt possibly sit in church with the other - weve all become too different, you know.
Moores vision is to break down those walls - and Columbia County is the where shell build a church with the pieces. Is this going to be the easiest place to start a multicultural church? asks Moore, a Methodist minister recently sent here from Athens. As I began to look, I began to see, yeah, it could happen here. It seems that folks are hungry to do a new thing.
Moore seeks to create Mosaic United Methodist Church, which would be located on a future - but as-yet-undetermined - site just west of downtown Evans. My ground zero is Greenbrier - a 5-mile circle around that area. Thats the ideal Im holding out there; thats the vision.
Other area Methodist churches are supporting that vision, as is the North Georgia Conference that is paying Moores salary for 18 months while she works to build Mosiac from pieces of all the communitys colors.
Theres no shortage of those pieces - but there is a shortage of churches where tradition and time have welcomed those pieces together.
To build that multicolored mosaic, she needs leaders as well as willing followers. Contact her at 877-6468 if youd like to be either.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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