Local pastors reach across racial divides to share faith, perspective
by Dean Olsen (The State Journal-Register, Oct. 17, 2015)
A half-century after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lamented that 11 a.m. Sunday is "the most segregated hour" in America, local pastors whose races are different from most members of their flocks are learning and teaching how to bridge the racial divide.
"For the most part, most persons will receive you, but it takes time," the Rev. Robert Freeman said. "I think it takes some getting used to on both sides."
... Roger Dennis said he feels called by God to tend to the spiritual needs of blacks, especially those who have dealt with financial hardships. He said he and his wife, who have survived bankruptcy, can relate to the struggle.
"This is where we come from," said Dennis, a Springfield native who lived in the Chicago area and Texas before returning in 1991. "Black is just a color. We just love people."
The work that Freeman and the Dennises are engaged in makes them unique because the voluntary segregation that the slain civil rights icon referred to in the 1960s continues in 2015, with some movement but not substantial change.
About eight in 10 Americans attending religious services do so in a place where a single racial or ethnic group makes up at least 80 percent of the congregation, according to the 2012 National Congregations Study. The segregation began after the Civil War, when blacks fled the "slave galleries" where slaves and freed blacks were expected to pray in the same churches as whites.