Good news is coming out of Memphis this year from a meeting held on March 22 at Second Presbyterian Church (EPC). The purpose was to help heal the wounds inflicted exactly 50 years ago during a yearlong effort by students and others to overturn the segregation policy at the church.
On that day two students, one African American and one white, walked up the steps of the church with the intention of entering and worshipping. They were turned away at the door by church representatives. Immediately the students kneeled and began praying for those who were resisting them.
The efforts continued for more than a year at the church until the policy was changed. The story is told in the book, “The Last Segregated Hour” by Rhodes College (then Southwestern at Memphis) professor Stephen Haynes. There were other similar kneel-in events in the Southeast but the longest and most sustained effort took place in Memphis.
Fifty years later, Second Church and Independent Church, which split off as a result of the controversy, sponsored a meeting bringing pastors and representatives of their two churches together with a group of protestors to confess, repent and ask for forgiveness and to share new ways of reconciliation being undertaken in the city. Members of the Memphis Downtown church also asked to be included. Finally, Professor Haynes invited a group of ministers, scholars and writers who will be meeting for the next year, to study reconciliation and repentance in congregations.
It should be noted that Second Church is now in the EPC and Independent church in the PCA, while Downtown Church remains a part of the PC(USA). Ecclesiastical barriers also fell, at least for the day of celebration.
These three events form a perfect circle: sin, confession and repentance – and a renewed effort to tear down the barriers, which Christ has already overcome in his death and resurrection.
A salute to all those who participated in these remarkable events spanning more than half a century!
Robert Bullock was the Outlook’s editor 1988-2003.