Churches of Madison gathered in unison outside Madison Presbyterian Church on June 10 to celebrate the town’s 200th anniversary.
The community worship service focused on heritage, history and hope for future unity.
Pastor Chuck McGathy of First Baptist Church in Madison was one of several local pastors that led worship throughout the Sunday service.
His message, in part, reflected on Madison’s strong religious history. It also served as a stark reminder of past injustice and pain.
“About 200 years ago, we started together,” McGathy said. “There were no church buildings. We got together because of our lack of resources. We met on the banks of the Mayo River and people would come out. We shared a common place for worship. We shared our fellowship and our food. We even shared preachers, we shared music and when we were together by the river, we could sense the presence of the spirit.”
McGathy, who became the pastor of First Baptist in 2006, said that despite being together, not everyone was treated the same in the religious community.
He added that togetherness in those times was only a shallow and intermittent stream, despite God’s justice being a mighty river.
Divisions were made by class with poor people counted as less important than wealthy landowners, McGathy said.
Women were also subject to a second-class status in most churches, with sanctuaries built with front doors – one side for the women of the congregation to enter and the other for the men.
“Of all of our divisions, none was deeper or more devastating, or more contrary to the will and kingdom of God then that of race,” McGathy noted. “For some of our brothers and sisters, there was no entry into the church from the front door. There was no seating except in the balcony – a form of inclusion with no real voice in the church.”
He said that while slavery was officially technically ended following the Civil War, the hearts of humans proved far more difficult to conquer. And while the bloody war didn’t fix things, it did allow for people of color to establish their own churches.
McGathy praised those efforts and the worth and dignity sustained before almighty God.
“You see, in his kingdom, there are no second-class citizens. No balcony seating. We’re all God’s children and we all have a place at his table of grace,” said McGathy, whose words were followed up by a long applause from the congregation.
The longtime pastor also offered gratitude to the African American Christians who endured unfair treatment.
“Thank you for your faithfulness,” McGathy said. “For not giving up on Jesus and the church he came to establish. In fact, thank you for continuing to remind us all that our Christian story is at its heart, a story of release from captivity and the liberation of the soul. Our God has come to set us all free, so that we may all love each other and be the family he intended.”
McGathy shared that it’s imperative to acknowledge the past, because if a community is courageous enough to hear and say the truth, then it can envision a new and better future.
“That future, that I hope for and I hope you dream of along with me, cries out for unity and I cannot state this more emphatically,” McGathy said. “Race should never divide Christian people. I know I've already said that but I'm aiming to be crystal clear. Race division is not a Biblical or Christian concept. I've spoken of history but it does not have to dictate our future. We can decide that this will not be our future because we know there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We can dream a new dream for our community. We can truly be a community of love and unity for our savior, the one that came to free us all.”
The Rev. Kendal Mobley, assistant professor of religion and coordinator of the Spiritual Life Center at Johnson C. Smith University, gave a keynote message on the unhindered gospel.
His words focused on the reflections of the Christian mission and scripture from Acts 28:28-31.
Mobley readily admitted that he didn’t know anything about the history of Madison before arriving to share his message.
That didn’t change that he was strong in his belief that the county needs every church and every Christian to be involved in the work of racial justice, because the ideology of white supremacy is so deeply entrenched in social structure, that rooting it is a herculean task.
He challenged all service goers in attendance to find a way to get involved in fighting for racial equality.
“In my experience, whenever people engage in discussions around racial justice, sooner or later, some white person will say I'm not a racist. Please, don't be that person,” Mobley preached. “..It's an attempt at neutrality. It's an attempt to say don't blame me for these problems, I am not responsible. But there is one thing I've learned being a grown-up in this messed up, broken, sin sick world of ours. Sometimes I'm responsible for solving problems that I didn't cause. As a Christian, when people are being hurt by something, it becomes my responsibility to try to help solve the problem even if I didn't cause it.”
Following the service, several pastors and ministers shared their appreciation for the service, including Rev. Ervin Best of Beulah Baptist Church, who helped direct the service throughout the morning.
"We have had some preaching up here today, amen? I believe this is the beginning of something great and we can see the glimpse of the miracle that god is about to release in our community," Best said. "We are asking that you continue to pray for all the pastors that continue to get together to bring about an awesome revival in our community."