More than 50 years ago, people stood near a church entrance in St. Augustine to keep blacks from coming inside.
The civil rights movement was underway, and some staged protests by trying to gain entry into racially divided churches. Some houses of worship, including what is now called First United Methodist Church on King Street, turned them away.
A lot has changed in 50 years.
A few weeks ago, Juana Jordan became the first African-American pastor to lead the mostly white congregation at First United Methodist Church. She is also the first female pastor.
Jordan described her selection as the senior pastor as a move of God to rewrite the narrative of the church, and she said she also believes she is taking part in bigger changes in St. Augustine.
“I think this what redemption looks like,” Jordan said.
Before the Civil War, black and white Methodists worshiped together in St. Augustine, historian David Nolan said. Part of that arrangement might have been because whites didn’t want to let slaves meet alone in case they planned to plot a revolt, he said.
During the Civil War, whites left but later claimed the property, Nolan said. The building was sold and the money was split, and black and white congregants formed separate churches.
The black church is what is now known as Trinity Independent Methodist Church on Bridge Street. The white church became First United Methodist Church, also known as the “pumpkin church” on King Street for its annual pumpkin sales.
The church divide wasn’t limited to St. Augustine. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called 11 o’clock on Sunday morning the most segregated hour in Christian America.
In 1964, a white woman walked Audrey Willis and Janice Boles to the King Street church. There, a church leader told the woman that the girls could not come inside, according to the Associated Press. The church voted not long after to accept all people, according to the story.
About 40 years later the church held a reconciliation ceremony and apologized to the women, including another who had been turned away. Nolan said theirs was the only white church in the city willing to apologize for such actions.
Pat Turner-Sharpton was pastor at the time of the ceremony. By then, black people were part of the congregation. Still, he felt the church’s reputation needed mending.
“I felt like the way the church was perceived in the community for that particular time of turning people away and having them arrested and just being, I guess, closed to people of color — I felt like the perception was there and would kind of always be there if we didn’t do something to say that that’s not who we are, and we’re very sorry that happened,” Turner-Sharpton said.
Turner-Sharpton retired this year after serving about 17 years at the church, making way for Jordan to take the lead.
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Source: Christian Post