More than 100 members — about half white, half African-American, mostly middle age or younger — of two Methodist churches came together Thursday night to pray, read and discuss their personal experiences of race relations.
The series of weekly meetings between the historic Centennial United Methodist Church at 19th and Woodland and Church of the Resurrection-Downtown was the brainchild of two seminary students, Matt Bisel and Jeff Williams. Williams is now associate pastor at Centennial. Bisel is still in seminary but attends Church of the Resurrection-Downtown, an off shoot of fast-growing Johnson County church.
"Here we were. Two Methodist congregations about a mile from each other but separated by this unspoken ... no, spoken divide: Troost Avenue."
Williams, a former literature teacher, thought engaging members of the two churches around race, theology and literature could offer some fresh perspectives.
Last week they studied Martin Luther King's "Letter From A Birmingham Jail."
They read as a large group. Then they break into small sections to discuss various questions. After that, they come back together and share their ideas.
This week they'd planned to discuss a piece by prominent African American author Zora Neale Hurston.
Recent events, however, persuaded the leaders to change course.
"With the two shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, and the shooting of police in Dallas we felt it was an opportunity for us to try and better understand these events," Williams said. "By understanding our different experiences hopefully we can have an imapact on what we see happening in our communities."
The meetings rotate between Centennial Church and Church of the Ressurection-Downtown each week.