Two Georgia churches with painful history try to help bridge racial divide

In our ongoing series, “A More Perfect Union,” we take a look at two neighboring churches in Georgia with a complicated history – working to forge a new relationship. Our series highlight how Americans have more in common than headlines might suggest. 

It’s Sunday morning in Macon, Georgia, and First Baptist Church is making a joyful noise. Just around the corner, First Baptist Church of Christ is starting its worship. Like many churches in America, the difference between the two is pretty much black and white.

“Most people are familiar with what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that, ‘The most segregated hour in America is worship hour.’ Is that still the case?” Brown asked pastors of the two churches.

“The reality is yes, it still is,” Pastor James Goolsby said.

“I think so. But I also think that we wouldn’t worry so much about that one hour a week of being divided if we weren’t so divided the other hours of the week,” Pastor Scott Dickison said.

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Pastor Scott Dickison (left) and Pastor James Goolsby (right)

CBS News

Dickison and Goolsby met two years ago and decided it was time for their congregations to get to know each other because not only do their churches share a name, but they also share a history.

In 1826, there was only one First Baptist Church in Macon. White slave owners worshiped in the front with their slaves in the back. But by 1845, church records show that the slaves outnumbered their owners two to one – so a separate church for blacks was formed. 

“You guys have been just around a corner from each other for how long?” Brown asked.

“Since 1887,” Goolsby said.

“And how often have you guys, prior to these meetings, interacted one with another?” Brown asked.

“Maybe once or twice,” Dickison said.

After the tragic murders at a Charleston church last year, the pastors got their two churches together for a series of meetings to talk about race and its impact on their community.

Just before Thanksgiving, church members met to break bread -- and walls -- that have separated them for years. For three hours, they shared funny stories and sad ones too. By the end of the night, the two congregations grew closer. We talked to members of both churches the next day. 

“I’m wondering how much objection, apprehension there may have been on those who heard about this but didn’t want to participate?” Brown asked.

“I did hear conversation about how the conversations would go and the fear of saying the wrong thing,” Kerri Thompson said.

“I’m going to use the word more apprehensive than negativity,” Richard Mathis said.

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Members of First Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, break bread together

CBS News

“One thing that you’ve learned from this series?” Brown asked.

“Togetherness. Let’s stay together,” Danny Patterson said.

“To listen to the other side, so to speak, and hear about their perceptions and their ideas about what’s gone on before,” David Cooke said.

“I’ve learned respect, unity and reconciliation from the First Baptist of Christ,” Bee Ross said.

“I’ve learned how forgiving our friends from First Baptist can be,” Ruth Rowell said.

“I’ve learned the importance of sharing experiences, engaging in positive dialogue,” Jared Moore said.

“This series has taught me that despite what the world is telling us right now, that this kind of conversation is possible,” Ethan Thompson said.

It only took two pastors to travel a few hundreds yards to begin to heal the divide.

Pastors Dickison and Goolsby and their congregations are hoping to build on these series of conversations. Both churches are planning the next steps to continue to grow closer and understand each other better.