18 preachers, 12 songleaders and one God
They were neither progressive nor conservative.
They were simply brothers and sisters in Christ.
The recent North Texas Praise and Unity Worship drew 4,500 to 5,500 church members from at least 70 congregations to an arena northeast of Dallas.
“No one can remember a larger gathering of north Texas congregations unless it was a Jimmy Allen meeting in the 1960s in a downtown auditorium,” said John Scott, senior minister at the Saturn Road church in Garland, which organized the assembly.
About 2,000 men, women and children attended a similar areawide service at Saturn Road last year. To accommodate a larger crowd this time, the church moved the gathering to the 7,000-seat Garland Special Events Center.
Organizers invited 360 Dallas area congregations of “all stripes and flavors,” Scott said. The only motive, he said: to promote and build multicultural unity.
“There are no agendas other than goodwill and fellowship,” he said.
‘A LONG TIME COMING’
Even as a multicolored sea of faces filled much of the 7,000-seat arena, the racial divide that permeates the church was easy to see.
The Dallas Christian High School chorus, made up almost entirely of white students, performed before the service, followed by the black Mountain View church chorus.
For one night, though, the groups shared the same stage.
Eighteen preachers — black, white and Hispanic — took turns reading Scriptures focused on unity.
Twelve song leaders, including Mike Bustillos from the bilingual Western Heights church in Dallas, joined the ministers on stage.
Bustillos led English and Spanish versions of I Will Call Upon the Lord and Here I Am to Worship.
“The singing by so many different leaders was phenomenal,” said Robert Oglesby, pulpit minister of the Waterview church in Richardson. “On a less serious note, it was beyond belief that 18 preachers could participate in any program and get through it in an hour and 20 minutes!”
There was no sermon — and no contribution — on this night, just plenty of praise and fellowship.
“I often feel … that there are two worlds of Churches of Christ in this area, with different connections, communication channels, fellowships and promotions,” said Larry Bowditch, education minister at the Avenue F church in Plano. “We are not blended as we should be as disciples of Christ. This assembly is a vital action step and has put the creation of that blending into reality.”
Brian Williams, technology ministry leader at the Mountain View church, agreed, saying the North Texas Praise and Unity Worship had been “a long time coming.”
“I think it was most beneficial to see the color lines being blotted out and the races worshiping together as God intended,” Williams said.
John Bradshaw Jr., youth minister at the Greenville Avenue church in Richardson, voiced hope that the service could be a “pivotal” event for Churches of Christ.
“It is so important that we let the world and especially our children see that there is neither black or white or Hispanic but that we are all one in Christ Jesus,” said Bradshaw, an alumnus of both Southwestern Christian College and Abilene Christian University. “I have seen so much time, energy and dialogue that have been dedicated to the split of 1906” between a cappella and instrumental congregations, he added. “We have neglected the split that preceded 1906, the racial divide that continues to divide this country and the church to this very day.”
‘THE IMPORTANCE OF UNITY’
In the Metroplex, congregations tend to be isolated from each other, said Tim Pyles, preaching minister at the McDermott Road church in Plano.
That’s not because of apathy or ill will toward each other, he said, but because churches are “understandably focused on their own ministries, membership and outreach.”
“The downside of that is that it can lead to the Elijah Syndrome that ‘we are the only ones still faithful to the Lord’ or cause one to buy into the myth of the demise of Churches of Christ,” Pyles said. “Events like this help to remind us that neither is true.”
Can one night make a real difference in how fellow Christians and congregations interact with each other?
Prentice Meador, senior minister at the Prestoncrest church in Dallas, said he has no doubt that it can. “A moment like this emphasizes the importance of unity and the value of fellowship,” Meador said. “Relationships, awareness and unity begin with one night like this.”