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Churches seek ways to bridge cultural divide

By Sherry Koonce skoonce@news-journal.com
Sept. 23, 2012 at 11 p.m.

The congregation of Mt. Olive went visiting Sunday, taking their service to another church to share God's word in message and song and to bridge a gap between two cultures.

For 22 years, the congregations of Longview's Mt. Olive Baptist Church, a predominantly black church at 306 S. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd., and First Christian Church, a predominantly white church at 720 N. Sixth St., have met jointly in an effort to improve race relations.

"In 1990 we started our relationship with Mt. Olive, and it's been wonderful," Bob Terrell, 85, said.

Terrell, a First Christian Church member since 1954, is one of the organizers of the Bridges Project. Originally started by the City of Longview, the project paired churches from different races in hopes of bridging cultural gaps.

"I think that people who don't have friends of other races are missing out," Terrell said.

At Sunday's evening service, youth from both churches combined to make one choir, and sang songs familiar to both churches. Mt. Olive's pastor, the . J.D. Palmer, delivered the sermon.

That's the way the two churches have done things for years.

The visiting church is in charge of services, and the other church usually provides a meal, Terrell said.

"I love it. If we can't get together down here, how are we going to get together in heaven?," said Jenita Williams, Mt. Olive's music minister.

Oscar Partner, 66, has been a Mt. Olive member for 17 years. He's grown accustomed to the joint fellowship, and finds it commonplace today, but said that was not always the case.

"Oh, there was a time when I would not have imagined blacks and whites going to church together," he said. "I am glad to see this, we need more of this," he said.

While the two groups are working to bridge the cultural divide, there are still glaring differences, 88-year-old June Green noted.

"Well, they (Mt. Olive) have more enthusiasm in their church. We are stuffy, while they express their joy better. When they come over here, we do loosen up a bit," Green said.

Kasey Whitenack, 11, said she always looks forward to the joint service, especially the song service.

"It's really fun to start singing gospel music," she said. "I think it is really cool that both churches can come together," Whitenack said.

The Sunday night fellowship won't be the group's last time to meet. Typically, they have joint services at least twice a year, work on charitable projects together throughout the year, and sometimes take trips together.

"It's been a great opportunity and a meaningful way for Christians to come together, and has been very genuine and rewarding," Margaret Parker, Mt. Olive member, said.

"Friendships have certainly developed."



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