Joint service helps bridge racial, denominational divide

By Ariel Gilreath

YORK—In an attempt to overcome racial division and bring their shared community closer together, Wesley United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church held a joint sermon June 22 called CommUnity.

Wesley UMC, whose members are predominantly black, and First Baptist, whose members are predominantly white, decided to combine services after Wesley’s Rev. Sheila Elliott said she got the idea from another UMC.

Elliott said she wanted to build bridges between the black and white communities, saying that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America.

“If we can’t worship together, how can we work together?” Elliott said.

Elliott said she met the Rev. Trey Doyle of First Baptist through the Western York Ministerial Alliance. Elliott and Doyle took turns preaching on community, unity and the shared troubles of each church.

“I was talking with someone just yesterday, and I know that not all attended the service, but each person that came left encouraged,” Doyle said.

But not everyone that attends Wesley UMC and First Baptist was on board for the joint sermon.

“There were some who chose not to attend,” Doyle said. “If nothing else is accomplished other than strengthening the bonds between the two churches, that would be significant.”

Elliott said it might have been hard for some of the members to adjust because they aren’t accustomed to change.

“God is always calling you out to the deep waters, but we want to stay in the shallow end,” Elliott said.

In the past, Wesley UMC did a Trunk-or-Treat with both First Baptist and First Presbyterian, but Elliott said the congregation didn’t get to meet each other because each church collaborated and held the event in a different location. CommUnity is an attempt to take that effort far deeper.

Elliott said the church should reflect what is being taught to the community.

“The ultimate goal is to minister to the community, but first we have to be a community,” Elliott said.

The joint sermon was held at Wesley UMC on Jefferson Street, and their next joint event will be a block party in the fall for both churches to get a chance to fellowship with each other and the community.

After that, Elliott and Doyle plan on having another joint service in September, this one at First Baptist.

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