At a time of heightened racial discord and tragedy across the country, two predominantly black and white Seventh-day Adventist conferences are seeking ways to worship together.
Called “Imagine Nashville,” the first event took place September 30, 2017, at Riverside Chapel Church in the South Central Conference, and a follow-up event was held October 28, 2017, at the Madison Campus Church in the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference.
During each event, there were activities that encouraged people of various ethnicities to interact with one another, and dialogues that conveyed a simple message: people are more alike than they are different.
Pastors from churches in both conferences also asked attendees to “imagine” how much more good they could do for the kingdom of God, for their communities, if they work together, much like Jesus asked His disciples to do.
“Jesus said it is by this love that people will know you’re My disciples,” Furman Fordham, Riverside Chapel pastor, said in an interview before the October event.
“The disciples had different challenges and issues. The proof that they really were directed by a spiritual power was the fact that they had love one for another.”
The first event at Riverside drew the attention of local media because there was a deadly church shooting about a week before in a neighborhood just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
While the Imagine Nashville events were planned weeks in advance, they took place amid a national backdrop of church shootings and racially-charged rallies, which church leaders say makes their message of unity even more relevant — and powerful.
“Christians are fond of saying that when God does something, Satan makes a counterfeit,” said Ken Wetmore, Madison Campus pastor. “Well, I think when Satan tries to do something, God brings around the real deal, and this is the real deal. This is about loving each other, and it’s long overdue in our community.”
The idea for Imagine Nashville, organizers say, actually started from a request by the conference presidents to bring all the churches together for an evangelistic meeting. The pastors were okay with that, but some suggested going a little deeper, to “really talk about being one, instead of a temporary kind of thing that will pass,” Fordham said.
“And so, it literally all started from this challenge to come together for an evangelistic meeting, and us saying we think it needs to go further than that,” Fordham said.
Wonder Drake, an elder at Riverside, said she’s glad to see Imagine Nashville taking place.
“I was very excited to see that my Caucasian brothers and sisters truly wanted to be united in Christ,” said Drake, who attended both Imagine Nashville events. “And, I was very excited to see that the African-Americans wanted to extend that love.”
James Livingston, a member of Nashville First Church in the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, said the joint events caused him to imagine even more what Heaven will be like.
“We’re all going to come together as one big family,” Livingston said.
Moving forward, pastors plan to have a variety of activities and training events each month.
Frederick Crowe, a 102-year-old former Riverside pastor and retired conference treasurer, said Imagine Nashville is a “good example” of what true unity should look like.
“The church has come a long way,” Crowe said. “This is another step in the right direction. And, the more we do this, the better.”
Lucas L. Johnson II is a former reporter for The Associated Press, and author of the book, Finding the Good, which was featured on National Public Radio.