In the midst of racial tensions in Charlotte, an African-American church in Greensboro, North Carolina, is transitioning to become the newest campus of The Refuge, a predominantly white multi-campus church aiming to have more multicultural diversity in its pews.
It was announced last Sunday that the predominantly black House of Refuge in Greensboro will become the fourth campus of The Refuge, a 2,200-member non-denominational church with campuses already established in Kannapolis, Salisbury and Brazil.
While the merger won't be complete until Nov. 6, when the House of Refuge officially becomes The Refuge of Greensboro, the announcement of the merger came just two days before riots broke out in the streets of Charlotte last week after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
In an interview with The Christian Post on Monday, Refuge lead pastor Jay Stewart explained that the decision to merge the church had been made months ago. However, the fact that the planned date to announce the merger came just two days before violence broke out in Charlotte might carry some divine significance, Stewart asserted.
"The Lord knew and I don't think it is coincidental," Stewart said.
"I think it is a great opportunity for that message to not only be spoken but to be demonstrated. People don't want to hear someone talk about unity, they want to see it in action," Stewart continued. "I think this is a great chance for people to see unity in action. Unity is the prerequisite for revival. So, if we are going to see a spiritual awakening, and I do believe there is another great awakening coming, there has to be unity first."
The House of Refuge, which is a 150 to 200-member church pastored by Derrick Hawkins, was in the midst of leadership change when Hawkins decided to reach out to Stewart for guidance about two years ago after seeing a billboard advertising The Refuge of Salisbury.
After meeting with Hawkins several times to provide guidance and mentoring and even meeting with and getting to know the House of Refuge's founding pastors, Stewart asked Hawkins and the founding pastors during a meeting last November if they ever considered becoming an extension of The Refuge.
"They just all started laughing and said, 'We talk about it all the time.' I said, 'Well, that is interesting. Maybe that is something we need to begin to explore together,'" Stewart recalled. "So, we did. I brought them in to meet our board of directors. They were ready right then."
But with Hawkins set to be installed as the House of Refuge's new pastor in June, Stewart figured it would be better if all this change wasn't sprung on the congregants so fast. The group decided that it would be best to wait until late fall to have the church officially become the newest campus of The Refuge.