By Susan LeDoux
While the Apostle Paul stressed unity in the early church, the Reformation permanently changed its landscape. Add ethnic and racial barriers to the mix of today’s congregations, and we have what is called “the most segregated hour of the week” — 11 AM, Sunday morning.
For the last 11 years, Bishop Singleton of Ark of Jesus Ministries and Pastor Vince DiPaola of Lakeshore Community Church, have welcomed other congregations to unite for worship and lunch one Sunday each year. This year, Pastor George McKnight (New Way Christian Faith Center), Rabbi Jim Appel (Congregation Shema Yisrael), Pastor Barbara Thomas (Victorious Living Christian Life Center), joined Singleton and DiPaola at Lakeshore Community Church on August 27th and desegregated that 11th hour.
“It’s time to come together to break down the walls,” Bishop Singleton said in an interview prior to the service. He added the church should demonstrate how to navigate the troubled waters of these times. Although the worship experience may be unique to each church, it is important to God we reach out and get together. When we do not do so, we minimize our abilities.
“There is severe racial tension. We need to address the spiritual element of true resolution…show unification through Jesus at the core. (We should) walk the talk and come together… experience different ways to worship.”
In that same interview, Pastor DiPaola reiterated the need to destroy barriers. America had just experienced a tornado in Texas and a killing in Charlottsville, Virginia and DiPaola suggested that, while those areas are associated with negative events, Rochester’s united churches could represent something positive.
In the ROC service, participants offered a brief homily about Christian unity and shared their congregations’ unique musical worship.
- Pastor George McKnight repeated the prayer for unity Jesus prayed just before his passion and death (John 17:20-26, NIV). He added that, although we are not alike, and may not agree on everything about God, John Wesley believed we can still get along and love one another.
“Our problems exist because one generation after another forgets to tell their children about God. Unity leads to strength. Disunity leads to weakness — just what Satan likes.”
In an amazing, unaccompanied voice, Pastor McKnight sang a beautiful hymn about needing a word from the Lord to make the sun shine and bring peace of mind.
- According to its website, Congregation Shema Yisrael is “a place where Jewish people can worship the G-d of Israel and follow Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah while keeping their Jewish identity.” However, Shema Yisrael is also spiritual home for many gentiles.
“The barrier to Jesus for Jews is that they believe you can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus Christ,” Rabbi Jim Appel said.
Referring to Genesis 10:32 NIV, Rabbi Appel cited the definition of “race” as a group of persons connected by common descent/family origin. Therefore, according to the Biblical story of the Flood, all humans are descended through Noah and his wife. He added that, ironically, scientists have recently named the remains of one woman “Eve,” as the genetic mother of everyone, thus making us all cousins.
At the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn, demons are said to flee. Well, they fled, every one of them, as we held hands and, under the guidance of Ethel Chadwick, sang two lines of Psalm 33 in Hebrew.
- Referring to Acts 17:26, KJV and Leviticus 17:11, TEV, Bishop Singleton spoke of blood being our common bond.
“We become one by the blood of Jesus. (According to the Bible) out of one blood, God made all nations. We are all family, and should get to know our family more often…We will be spending a long time together in heaven,” he said.
Singleton used a video to demonstrate the need for us to respect all points of view. In the video, Singleton sat on a chair and held a sign. People standing in front of the sign would see only black printing on a white background. Yet those standing behind him, would see a picture of many people. Therefore, depending on one’s point of view, one person sees differently than another.
- Pastor Barbara Thomas stressed the need to tear down barriers, those dividing walls of hostility, as mentioned in Ephesians 2:14, NIV.
“We all come to the table as sinners and all need to repent,” she said. Thomas described a big family reunion, where familiar family members tend to cluster together. Thomas advised that we should not be introverts.
“Go into the city, highways, and gutters…We have to come together (as) commanded by God.”
- Pastor Vince DiPaola chose Revelation 5:6-10, NIV to give a glimpse of heaven, where the Lamb is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals because by his blood he purchased men “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
“Life on earth is practice for heaven, as in the Lord’s prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,’” he said.
He added we should appreciate our differences, and the church must send the message that Jesus brings us together the best. “We will be witnesses of Christ in heaven because we did (that) on earth.” He challenged Rochester to be a beacon of this love, unlike places of sorrow in our nation.
In a later conversation, Bishop Singleton said he hoped other church groups would gather to worship together occasionally, noting, “Part of our strength is our diversity.” Many small groups would create many more connections, creating greater impact within the church.
“If you want to see something different, do something different. (It) can start at a prayer gathering, which may lead to friendships, and lead to changing together,” he concluded.