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W. Michael Jackson speaks at the 2024 Memphis Area Churches of Christ gathering.
Photo by Don Mooney

‘Bind us together, Lord’

Memphis-area churches remain committed to unity despite post-pandemic challenges.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Every new year ushers in a sense of energy, renewal and commitment to which personal goals are set.

Other times these goals can be spiritual. Often they can be both.

Such was the case as Memphis Area Churches of Christ marked their return from pandemic hiatus to help restore and encourage the local body, both personally and spiritually.

Related: How five Nashville churches came together

Called MACC, the group of congregations kicked off 2024 with a four-day series of unified area worship assemblies with the theme “Bind us together, Lord” at the Norris Road Church of Christ.

Four churches agreed to host a minister from a fellow congregation. Harold Redd from the Midtown Church of Christ spoke at Norris Road, for example, while Nokomas Rodgers, minister for the Quince Church of Christ, spoke at the Boulevard Church of Christ, symbolizing unified agreement from the leadership.

While the unity of MACC was indeed challenged by the global impact of COVID-19 in 2020, the lingering effects of the pandemic have affected church attendance across the country.

Preachers at the 2024 Memphis Area Churches of Christ gathering.

From left to right, W. Michael Jackson, Nokomas Rodgers, Harold Redd and Burnell Holly.

“COVID seems to be nowhere but the church!” said Burnell Holly, minister for Norris Road. “COVID not in the grocery story, the beauty shop, football games … just in the church.”

As the spiritual entity arises from the ashes of the pandemic, this year’s event carried a significance to the fellowship.

As W. Michael Jackson, the Boulevard minister, phrased it, “We’ve got to try and gain the momentum we used to have.”

History of MACC

About 26 years ago, the first MACC gathering was held at Norris Road.

According to Redd, who also chairs the collective, “The highest number was around 1,600 people, and it was in the Norris Road location. I don’t think they counted everybody — I don’t think (they) could, because people were just everywhere.”

It became clear to this spiritual entity that it needed to find more accommodating facilities.

Memphis-area Christians gather together for a 2024 unity service.

Memphis-area Christians gather together for a 2024 unity service.

Over the years, the group has met at three different high schools across Memphis. Redd pointed out how members of the body in the community were instrumental in contracting larger venues to meet.

“Oliver Johnson, who used to be one of our elders, was a principal at Hamilton High School,” Redd said. “He made it possible to come to Hamilton.

“Norris Road had a member who worked for Wooddale High School. We’ve gone to Wooddale High School a couple of times.”

Related: Churches strive to reach ‘Next Level Up’ in 2023

The general consensus was that over 1,000 met at those high school gatherings.

Holly recalls a peak period when MACC participation had to be organized into three sections.

“We had a north region. We had a south region. We had a southeast region,” Holly said. “In other words … if we had between 32 to 40 congregations, we divided the city into three sectors, and we would meet at Norris on Sunday for joint worship. Then on Monday and Tuesday, we would go out into the regions. And then on Wednesday, we would come back together as an aggregate group.”

Jackson and Rodgers confirmed the earliest gathering at Norris Road, about 24 years ago, did not solely include African Americans but was cross-cultural.

Eventually, it became exclusively African American because of the biannual cross-cultural event at the Harding School of Theology in Memphis. At some point, Germantown Church of Christ became the host of the multicultural event.

A binding faith

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, when numbers represented considerable unity, MACC membership has been in slow decline.

But the leaders agree, despite challenges going forward, nothing is too hard for God.

“Until we can encourage all of the congregations to have a desire to be bound together in Christ, we have some challenges.”

“We’re all on the same team, just different locations,”  Rodgers said.

Over the years, the landscape of the Memphis churches have changed. For various reasons, some of the larger congregations are not as large as they used to be.

“Until we can reach the city and really encourage all of the congregations in the city of Memphis to seek to be unified, as the theme for this year suggested … until we can encourage all of the congregations to have a desire to be bound together in Christ, we have some challenges,” Jackson said.

‘Bind us together’

Some of the attendees spoke about seeing one another after the absence.

“I was excited to see people I hadn’t seen in some time,” said Susie Suttle, a Quince member.

Mozella Ross, a member of the Forestview Church of Christ, believes the areawide meeting is beneficial for the body.

W. Michael Jackson speaks at the 2024 Memphis Area Churches of Christ gathering.

W. Michael Jackson speaks at the 2024 Memphis Area Churches of Christ gathering.

“I’d like to see it expanded to include more of the congregations and encourage more non-Christians to come more in the spirit of the old-time gospel meetings,” she said.

The leadership plans to use this year’s meeting to springboard future gatherings. Rodgers agrees the churches have a lot of work to do.

“We are to be striving for unity, Paul says, endeavoring to keep the unity,” Rodgers said. “It’s not going to come overnight. We’ve got to work to get to that point.”

DON MOONEY is a member of the Midtown Church of Christ in Memphis.

Filed under: black churches Christian unity Memphis Area Churches of Christ National News Post-Pandemic Church Top Stories

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