Two Oakland Churches — One Traditional Black Baptist, the Other White and Contemporary — Complete Journey to Unity This Sunday

Tapestry founders Kyle Brooks (left) and Bernard Emerson prepare for the first service Sunday. (Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle)
Tapestry founders Kyle Brooks (left) and Bernard Emerson prepare for the first service Sunday. (Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle)

One pastor is black, an Oakland native with a congregation of African American families in East Oakland. The other pastor is white, an Oakland transplant with a congregation of predominantly white young singles new to the East Bay city.

The two men met a couple of years ago at a community meeting of clergy and became fast friends, occasionally attending each other’s church functions. They saw more similarities than differences.

“One day we got the bright idea and asked what would it look like for us to be one church,” said Bernard Emerson, 48, pastor of the Way church in East Oakland, which he founded nearly four years ago and has about 30 parishioners.

These were “the most unlikely group of people you could find in the same room,” said Kyle Brooks, 31, of the Oakland Communion church in downtown Oakland, which he founded nearly three years ago and which also has about 30 parishioners.

But they dreamed of merging two disparate communities. It was an unlikely dream.

Martin Luther King Jr. said in his final sermon that “11 o’clock on Sunday morning … (is) the most segregated hour of America.”

Not much has changed in the half century since, with 80 percent of American churchgoers still attending services where 80 percent of the congregants are from one racial or ethnic group, according to a 2014 Duke University Study.

So Emerson and Brooks started slowly, their congregations worshiping together once every two months and on holidays. They talked about the fears and hopes that come with combining a black church rooted in Baptist traditions with a white one that was grounded in the Protestant Reformation.

Then in August, racial violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va., after a white nationalist rally in the college town. One person was killed when a man with ties to white supremacy groups drove a car through a crowd. Dozens were injured.

“When that happened in Charlottesville, I called Kyle and said we’ve got to ramp this up, we’ve got to do something sustainable so the world could know it’s possible,” Emerson said. “That was our protest to Charlottesville.”

On Sunday, Emerson, the lead pastor, will preach the first sermon at the Tapestry Church, the two congregations officially merging into one in a school auditorium in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

He has titled the sermon, “What if?”

“It’s not just about people being in the same room on Sunday,” Brooks said. “But it’s about people being able to embrace the reality about the church, which is, as Jesus put it, that we are one.”

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SOURCE: Jill Tucker
San Francisco Chronicle