News Articles

White church, black interim, ‘hearts together’

[SLIDESHOW=39591,39592,39593,39594]EDITOR’S NOTE: Feb. 8 is Race Relations Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

GRAND SALINE, Texas (BP) — The East Texas town of Grand Saline once was known as one of many “Sundown Towns” because of the violence against African Americans at nightfall.

Today however, African American Richard Taylor serves as interim pastor of the town’s Main Street Baptist Church. Taylor calls it simply “a God thing.”

Taylor, a church planting associate of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, had assisted the church for a year before being called as interim pastor.

“God just began to join our hearts and unite our hearts together, so I knew that God was up to something,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t just because of the immediate love I had for them but the apparent love they had for me as well.”

Taylor, who spent a decade as director of evangelism for the Baptist Convention of New York, believes in this latest calling he is part of healing a broken church and healing a community with a turbulent racial past.

“Even though I knew bits and pieces of their history,” Taylor said, “I felt that if God had placed me on their hearts that this was going to be a phenomenal God thing that would not only heal the church but also be the catalyst in the community for racial reconciliation.”

While the racial divide in Grand Saline is not as wide as it once was, it’s still a town haunted by its history.

The local newspaper, the Grand Saline Sun, reported the suicide of a retired United Methodist pastor who set himself afire in July 2014 and left behind a note expressing grief and guilt for not doing more to bring racial reconciliation in his hometown.

When Taylor began meeting with church leaders at Main Street, he faced the racial issue head on.

“I refused to allow it to be the elephant in the room that everyone knew but no one was willing to address. So we dealt with it — the implications of it — that it would be the talk of the town and the community for making such a bold step,” Taylor said of becoming interim pastor.

“But they were clear that this is exactly what God had told them as a committee and as a church and that they were willing to step out on faith, that I was the man God had placed on their hearts to lead them through this transitional period.”

Main Street endured a difficult period leading up to the decision to call Taylor in part because of the departure of their former pastor who resigned in January for health reasons. The Grand Saline family was divided, hurting and broken, Taylor said.

“I knew coming in that the first thing we needed to do was to start liking each other and loving each other,” Taylor said. “And out of the overflow of what God was doing in our individual lives, then we could start making a change in the community. So the greatest struggle, initially, was mending relationships. We’ve crossed that hurdle. There’s an excitement and a zeal and an energy that did not exist when I got there.”

While Southern Baptists are engaged in intentional efforts to be more diverse in their congregations and in leadership, such as the annual cross-cultural “Look Like Heaven” emphasis by the SBTC, Taylor believes something else was at play in Grand Saline.

“I’m excited to be part of a convention that’s doing that,” Taylor said. “But I don’t think [this] had anything to do with any of that, in honesty. This was a pastor and people whom God, through His sovereign will, brought our paths together.”

Inside the walls at Main Street Baptist, the congregation has rediscovered its joy. The church is focused on what Taylor terms “the assignment,” Christ’s Great Commission.

“I think my service there is bigger than just preaching and filling the pulpit. But God in His sovereign will is trying to unite mankind.”

In Taylor’s short time as interim, Grand Saline has conducted a revival, called Revive Our City, aiming at “making Grand Saline grand again,” as he puts it, in regard to the Great Commission.

And at Main Street Baptist Church, attendance has begun to rise. Census figures indicate there are 20 African American families in Grand Saline, and Taylor wants to reach not only them but all people,

letting them know they are welcome not just to sit in the pews but to become part of the life of the church.

Many Baptist churches have plateaued, declined or are dying, Taylor said, because they refuse to do what Main Street Baptist Church did — step out of their comfort zone and take a bold step. He squarely told Main Street church leaders he would be making them uncomfortable because he is different.

“I believe that’s what God wants to do — shake us from our tradition, to shake us from our comfort and shake us from our sleeping, to help us to understand the urgency of doing the assignment, which is

to reach people and make disciples,” Taylor said. “I am excited. God is up to something in Grand Saline and in the Main Street Baptist Church. It’s just exciting to be a part of it.”

There is a lesson that comes from the Grand Saline story, Taylor said.

“Our history, as painful as it might be, is not a determination for what God will do if we would make ourselves available. … I’ve never been loved more by God’s people than I have been at Main Street.”