In Georgia county with history of racial violence, Christians seek unity

In Georgia county with history of racial violence, Christians seek unity

CUMMING, Ga. — Kelvin Teamer stood on the stage of the Grace Chapel Church of ChristAnd marveled at the crowd.

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In this small town about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta, about 600 Christians — Black, White and Hispanic — filled the pews for a special unity service Sunday.

“It’s good to be in Forsyth County this morning!”Teamer, evangelist and proclamation Bouldercrest Church of ChristAtlanta

“Amen! Amen!”The crowd responded.

A promotional poster for Sunday’s “One Voice Atlanta”Grace Chapel Church of Christ, Cumming, Ga.

“Now there was a time not long ago,”The Black minister added, “when somebody who looked like me would never say anything like that. But God is having his way here today.”

Teamer made reference to Forsyth County’s dark past racially. remained nearly all-WhiteDuring the 1990s. Cumming, home to a population of approximately 6,500, is the county’s seat.

A Forsyth County historical landmark erected just last year — at the urging of a community remembrance project — recounts the 1912 lynching of Rob Edwards. The 24-year old Black man was accused by Mae Crow of murdering and raping her young White friend.

A Forsyth County historical marker details a 1912 lynching.

A historical marker in Forsyth County (Ga.) details a 1912 lynching.

Two Black teens, Ernest Knox (and Oscar Daniel) were also in the same situation. hung after one-day trials. Bands of White “night riders”According to the 2016 Book, they launched a coordinated campaign for arson and terror to drive out all 1,098 Black Forsyth County residents. “Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America”Patrick Phillips

“If you read some of the history, you actually find out that it was people who were calling themselves Christians at times who were doing some of those things,”Paul Huyghebaert was the Grace Chapel church’s lead minister.

“We can’t undo that story. But what is the new story — the right story that we tell?”The White preacher also added, as Teamer and he discussed the racial unity initiative. “That is why this is so important.”

Cumming witnessed a civil rights march in 1987 that attracted thousands of people. This provoked a counterdemonstration from Ku Klux Klan members as well as their sympathizers.

National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and police officers kept the opposing parties apart. New York Times reported at the time.

Related: At Tulsa massacre’s centennial, two Oklahoma churches focus on racial unity

Given Forsyth County’s history, Teamer said, “It’s mentally hard for a lot of (Black) folks to cross that county line.”

He also told his fellow Christians: “Through a continued investment in each other, I believe we can build bridges where no bridges existed.”

The host team of the Grace Chapel Church of Christ, led by connections minister Jim Beasley, left, prays before Sunday's service.

The host team of the Grace Chapel Church of Christ, led by connections minister Jim Beasley, left, prays before Sunday’s service.

‘It’s so long overdue’ 

Sunday’s event — dubbed “One Voice Atlanta” — marked the latest in a series of cooperative efforts between the Bouldercrest church, which is predominantly Black, and the Grace Chapel church, which is predominantly White.

Since the summer of 2021, the two congregations — plus a Hispanic group that meets at the Grace Chapel building — have organized periodic joint assemblies and worked together in an urban ministry serving the homeless.

At Sunday’s service, the diverse crowd sang “Blessed Assurance”In Spanish and English. Bouldercrest and Grace Chapel elders were gathered on stage to offer a special prayer. 

Grace Chapel elder Richard Crowder speaks before leading a special prayer as elders from his congregation and Bouldercrest gather on stage.

Before leading a special prayer, Richard Crowder, a Grace Chapel elder, speaks as Bouldercrest elders gather on the stage.

Both congregations shared praises and fellowship, as well as treats. 

A banner in black was hung on a wall in a church. It contained the message. “WITNESS”In tall, white letters. Feel-tip markers were used by attendees to write inspirational messages and Scriptures on the banner.

“God is amazing,” said Robin Taylor, a 50-year Bouldercrest member who drove 45 minutes to attend Sunday’s service. “It’s truly amazing that we can connect and be one family. … It’s so long overdue.”

‘This is not the norm’

Minister friends are Huyghebaert and Teamer

In their 40s, they met for the first time through their Atlanta-area churches. They later connected via the Renew Network,A multiethnic, multinational group of faith leaders

As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on — and as racial tension in America intensified After the high-profile deathsAhmaud Arbery, Breonna Tay George Floyd and others — the preachers talked about the need to bring their congregations together.

“I’d say the entire context nationally that we were all witness to played a role in our desire to see a kingdom vision for unity take center stage,”Huyghebaert said. 

Teamer emphasized the importance of “oneness as a witness” for the world to see God’s people integrated. He emphasized Jesus’ call for unity in John 17:20-23.

“The unfortunate thing is that this here, this is not the norm. … But this is very much the vision of King Jesus.”

“God is in this,”Teamer said “One Voice Atlanta.” “The unfortunate thing is that this here, this is not the norm. … But this is very much the vision of King Jesus.”

Teamer pointed out the “great multitude from every nation”These are the contents Revelation 7.

“We’ve got to learn to work together, appreciate differences and still walk in unity one with another,”He said. “We’ve got Republicans in here. We’ve got Democrats. We’ve got independents. We’ve got all kinds of political ideologies in here. 

“But let me tell you something: That doesn’t really matter. What really matters is the kingdom of God.”

A long black banner, hung on a church hallway wall, featured the message “WITNESS” in tall white letters. Attendees used felt-tip markers to write favorite Scriptures and inspirational messages on the banner.

Feel-tip markers are used by attendees to write inspirational messages and Scriptures onto the banner.

Intentionality is crucial

Mindy Woodford, a Bouldercrest member, said that she heard about places where Black people lived as a child. “shouldn’t get pulled over — or you might not make it out.”

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Enisha Carlisle

Mindy Woodford

Forsyth County was one.

Woodford has responded to the call to form relationships with Grace Chapel members. Woodford even visited the congregation on Sunday alone and went out for lunch with fellow Christians that she had met in Bible class.

“When you take the initiative, that’s when you really grow in your own Christianity,”She spoke. “That’s what it’s all about — developing relationships, seeking to connect with others and connecting them with God.”

Cassie Shaver’s family moved to Cumming last year for her husband, Rob, to serve as Grace Chapel’s discipleship minister.

The Shavers have four children, one of which is an adopted daughter who’s biracial. They had previously worked with a congregation located in an ethnically diverse community in upstate New York.

“So it was a little different moving here,”Cassie Shaver, a White woman, said this. “We kind of heard the history, so I think it was a little scary.

“So this is right up our alley,”She spoke highly of the unity effort. “It was very exciting to hear that there was an intentionality about it.”

Enisha Carlisle, left, visits with Cassie Shaver at the Grace Chapel church.

Enisha Carlisle, right, visits Cassie Shaver in the Grace Chapel church.

Showing Jesus to the World

Washington Johnson, a former U.S. Army Major who works in health care, is retired. He moved to Forsyth County from the United States in 2010.

Johnson, who was Black, said that another Black family was already attending Grace Chapel when his family arrived. The church now has seven to eight Black families. 

Like the church fast-growing Forsyth County has become more diverse.The population is growing in Asians (18%), Hispanics (10%) and Blacks (5%) U.S. Census data shows.

Branddon Bailey, left, greets Washington Johnson at the unity event.

Branddon Bailey, left, meets Washington Johnson at the unity ceremony

“It’s still changing and evolving,”Johnson spoke highly of the county.

He was an elder at Grace Chapel and is now taking a sabbatical. 

A vocal supporter of the racial unity effort, Johnson — like Teamer and Huyghebaert — cites a desire to build deeper relationships between the two congregations.

“There needs to be some way that we continue to move this forward in terms of our fellowship and embracing each other.”

Johnson stated that collaboration must go beyond special events to everyday living.

“There needs to be some way that we continue to move this forward in terms of our fellowship and embracing each other,”He said. “Maybe we need to get together to do a bowling event or go see a Braves game or something like that.”

Johnson joined other Christians from both churches for a prayer walk in downtown Atlanta the day before the unity service.

The group distributed food, and other supplies to the needy.

“We prayed and listened to the stories of people who are going through some things right now,”He said. “So it’s been a wonderful blessing … hearing some of the things that they’re dealing with and overcoming.”

Kimberly Teamer, wife of evangelist Kelvin Teamer, left, greets minister Paul Huyghebaert, at the Grace Chapel church.

Kimberly Teamer is the wife of Kelvin Teamer, an evangelist. She greets Paul Huyghebaert at Grace Chapel church.

Teamer stated that Christians from different racial or cultural backgrounds should work together to serve God.

“Jesus offers a huge promise,”The preacher said. “If we’re one, the world will see that Jesus is real. The world will see that Jesus was sent to them by God. 

“Now isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?”

BOBBY ROOSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under
Forsyth County
Race and church
Relations between races
racial injustice
racial justice
racial reconciliation
The church and racial reconciliation
racial unity
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