Lutheran, AME Zion leaders come together in historic gathering

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2011

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Two Christian denominations met Friday night at St. John’s Lutheran Church for the first part of what organizers say is an unprecedented agreement between historically white and black churches.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church had a large turnout Friday night for the gathering that featured the ELCA’s presiding bishop, Mark Hanson, and AME Zion Bishop George Walker.
N.C. Lutheran Synod Bishop Leonard Bolick also joined other local pastors and community leaders at the gathering.
The two denominations will meet again today for a daylong summit at Hood Theological Seminary, which will feature four bishops from each denomination speaking on the churches’ commonalities and differences. The public is invited to attend.
“This is the first time, we believe, in the history of our nation, that there’s been an agreement between a historically black church and a historically white church,” Bolick said in a press release.
This weekend’s meetings are the result of five years of joint efforts between the churches after Hood Theological Seminary relocated beside the N.C. Lutheran Synod headquarters on Days Inn Drive.
Mark Hanson, the ELCA’s presiding bishop, said Friday’s worship service was “about the future.”
“We live in such a time where there is such a polarization of our culture,” Hanson said. “This night is not about polarization, it’s about reconciliation.”
The ELCA has been under fire recently in response to mainline Lutheran acceptance of homosexual clergy, which is viewed by some Christians as immoral.
Nearly 200 congregations have left the ELCA, and 136 more are preparing to leave.
When asked how differing views on topics such as same-sex marriage and gay ordained ministers could play out, Hanson said that’s not the focus.
“It’s not about agreement on that,” he said. “It’s agreement about the core of the faith.”
Hanson said the two denominations are “a model that we can talk about our differences.”
“It’s a recognition that differences will not divide us,” he said.
Local pastor Grant Harrison, of Soldiers Memorial AME Zion Church in Salisbury, said he’s excited about the agreement and that the two denominations are “learning that they have more in common.”
“It affords us the opportunity to learn the strengths of our sister denomination,” Harrison said. “We want to see more of this.”
Location is key, Harrison said, for Salisbury to be the home of the denominations’ joint-effort grassroots movement.
Harrison said Salisbury’s Hood Seminary, Livingstone College and the N.C. Lutheran Synod headquarters make the town a “prime location.”
“I think it’s wonderful for Salisbury because we have the type of location that benefits us,” he said.
Georene Jones, a St. John’s member and student in the theological studies program at Hood Theological Seminary, called Friday’s service an “absolute affirmation of what I believe.”
“It gives me great hope for the future of the church,” she said. “This is a culmination of my hopes and dreams.”