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To save a city, Southern Hills leads charge across racial lines

DALLAS — Southern Hills is a door-knocking church.
Since the congregation took root in southeastern Dallas in the 1940s, church members have delivered the gospel on foot to nearby homes. But lately, reaching lost souls requires an interpreter. When minister James Maxwell came to Southern Hills 16 years ago, “we would go out knocking on doors and mostly blacks would answer,” he said. “Now when we go out door-knocking, we’re hearing, ‘No speak English.’”

After a hearty lunchof roasted chicken in the church’s new family life center, deacons Travis C.Buggs and William Ross talked about the changing demographics of the church’sneighborhood, now at least 75 percent Hispanic.
The church hasremained almost entirely black, but now most members live at least 15 milesfrom the building, Buggs said.
Ross is theexception. The deacon, who runs a catfish bait business, lives about two milesfrom the Southern Hills building. His immediate neighborhood has remainedmostly black, but he’s seen the school his children attended change to almostentirely Hispanic.
But he’s not moving.Neither is the church.
“When we came to thiscommunity, we weren’t allowed to go to your church,” he told a white reporter.“Where I live, all the whites moved out.”
Fifty years later,Ross and his church aren’t going to do the same thing to their Hispanicneighbors. They’re staying put — with open doors.
“It would go against everyprinciple we have with this city to do any different,” he said.
The church has hireda Hispanic minister, but integrating Hispanics into the congregation may bedifficult. Few church members speak Spanish, and the majority live outsideLatino communities.
But crossing racialbridges is nothing new for Southern Hills.
About 20 years agoBuggs met Ron Patterson, an insurance agent and deacon for the Saturn Roadchurch, a predominantly white congregation in Garland, Texas. Patterson said hecame to know Buggs as “one of the most dedicated church treasurers and servantsthat you will find in the brotherhood.”
Buggs said he andPatterson would talk for hours at a Taco Bell about issues of racial unity.They agreed that, “working together — regardless of race — as united members ofthe church of Christ was very important to the future of the church,” Pattersonsaid.
Both deaconsapproached their ministers about increasing cooperation between thecongregations. Maxwell and John Scott, pulpit minister for Saturn Road,arranged the first joint worship service at Southern Hills’ building.
Patterson describedit as a “soul-stirring experience.”
“That night therewere many responses, both black and white, asking for forgiveness of sins,” hesaid. Several confessed unkind acts toward each other because of race.
“It’s sad, it’spathetic — it’s damning, actually — that we know so little about each other,”Scott said. “We have such parallel universes, and we really have to make themcollide. We’re taking baby steps, but at least it’s baby steps in the rightdirection.”
Maxwell and Scotthave continued to organize multicultural events and participate in monthlyluncheons with Dallas-area evangelists.
Tim Pyles, ministerfor the McDermott Road church, Plano, Texas, attends the luncheons and saidthat both men and their churches “are doing more to promote inter-racial,inter-congregational cooperation and fellowship than anyone else I know in theMetroplex.”
Fellowship in thepews has led to cooperation outside the church building, Maxwell said. AfterHurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and sent refugees into the Dallasarea, Southern Hills hosted a meeting of church leaders to coordinate resources.Fifty-two church members from 26 congregations attended the meeting to discussways they could work together to help evacuees in Dallas and other victims inthe affected areas.
Though he supportscongregational autonomy, Maxwell said, “The church of Christ has denied itselfa great privilege” by confusing that autonomy with isolation.
“It’s beautiful toknow what resources you have in a community of believers,” he said.
Churches across thecity also participate in the biannual Crusade for Christ. The evangelisticcampaign traditionally was the work of black churches, but the next crusade,scheduled for 2007, will involve black, white and Hispanic church members andwill be preceded by three multicultural rallies, Maxwell said.
The most recent jointpraise service, in January, brought an overflow crowd from 42 congregations tothe Saturn Road building, Scott said. Church members from all three races ledsongs in English and Spanish. Coordinators will use a new, 7,000-seat eventcenter in Garland for the next joint worship in January 2007.

“Ithink that all three cultures were waiting for something like this,” Buggssaid. “It’s just like mixing a cake — it took time.”

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