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INSIDE STORY: Friendly faces in the City of Brotherly Love

PHILADELPHIA — It’s a small, small world in Churches of Christ.
I don’t mean that in terms of numbers. Size-wise, our a cappella fellowship of Bible believers is significant: 1.6 million men, women and children in U.S. pews alone.
That makes Churches of Christ the 16th largest Christian group in America, according to the National Council of Churches.
Despite our size, though, we remain a close-knit family of Christ-followers. I’ve heard it said that most of us can visit any Church of Christ in the nation and find somebody who knows someone we do.
With nearly 13,000 congregations, that sounds next to impossible. In my travels with The Christian Chronicle, however, I find it to be true.
But does that “small, small world” extend to a white Christian journalist covering the 66th annual National Lectureship of the Churches of Christ, the largest yearly gathering of black churches?
We have lamented in this space that black and white churches tend to operate in parallel universes — with their own brotherhood events, their own favorite speakers and singing groups, even their own styles of worship.
On the Chronicle’s editorial page, we have urged churches to break down racial barriers.
With the support and encouragement of Editor Lynn McMillon, the Chronicle itself has made a concentrated effort to improve our news coverage of black churches, our relationships with black Christian leaders and our subscriber base among black members.
How are we doing?
Undoubtedly, we have a long way to go. But we’re making progress.
As I mingled among the National Lectureship crowd — mostly black faces — at the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott, I kept running into people I know.
Roy Johnson, a member of the Newark, N.J., church, spotted me in the registration line.
Johnson and I met last fall at his friend Ken Brown’s house. Brown, a member of the Echo Lake church in Westfield, N.J., had invited me to watch an Oklahoma Sooners football game on his big screen. I was in the area that weekend to cover the Northeastern Lectureship at the Apollo Theater in New York.
Johnson rooted against my Sooners, and they lost, but I forgave him. That Sunday, we drove to the Apollo together. After worship, we enjoyed lunch at a barbecue restaurant in Harlem.
Among other familiar faces I ran into here in the City of Brotherly Love:
• Thomas Jackson, minister of the Ferguson Heights church in Ferguson, Mo. I met Jackson a couple of years ago on a reporting trip to the St. Louis area.
• Kenneth Jackson, minister of the Lewis Street church in Little Rock, Ark. I interviewed him at the Crusade for Christ in Tampa, Fla., in 2007.
• Kevin Bethea, minister of the East Baltimore church. I interviewed him in Baltimore in 2005. He’s doing exciting work with Northeast Baltimore Bible Institute and College.
• David L. Lane, minister of the Marsalis Avenue church in Dallas. I heard Lane preach in 2008 at a Unity in Christ event sponsored by black and white churches in the Detroit area.
Lane and James O. Maxwell, vice president of institutional expansion at historically black Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, are featured this month in a Dialogue interview.
Although I had not met Maxwell until seeing him at the National Lectureship, I recognized his name and that of his son, James A. Maxwell, minister of the Holgate church in Seattle.
I was surprised, though, that they knew my name.
“Oh, you’re Bobby Ross,” the senior brother Maxwell said. “You look younger than your picture.”
Also this month, we spotlight the Fifth Ward church in Houston in our Churches That Work series. That congregation is Houston’s oldest black church and traces its roots to a 1930s series of tent meetings by Marshall Keeble.
The Fifth Ward church hosted the third annual National Lectureship back in 1947. Christians from across the nation stayed at Fifth Ward members’ homes, and a white tent was put up behind the worship building and used as a cafeteria.
At Fifth Ward, I was privileged to meet faithful Chronicle reader Barry Gibson.
Gibson, a deacon, teaches a 13-week Bible class that trains members to share their faith one on one. He told me how much he appreciated our “By the numbers” series on the growth and decline in our fellowship.
It’s a small, small world in Churches of Christ.

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].


  • Feedback
    Although there are distinctly “black” churches in this area, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find something of a racial mix in most of the congregations I’ve visited in New Jersey.
    Adam Gonnerman
    Central Jersey Church of Christ
    Kearny, NJ
    May, 12 2010

Filed under: Inside Story

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