What began as an informal meeting between two pastors several months ago will culminate Sunday in the rekindling of a relationship between two of Macon’s oldest churches.
First Baptist Church of Christ, a predominantly white church, and First Baptist Church, predominantly black, formally split about 150 years ago. But the two congregations will come together at 3 p.m. for a joint service on Pentecost Sunday that will include a performance by both church choirs, a joint communion and two sermons -- from First Baptist’s pastor, the Rev. James Goolsby, and the Rev. Scott Dickison of First Baptist Church of Christ.
Goolsby said other local pastors invited him and Dickison to lunch to help them get to know each other a little better.
“It was on their mindset to get us together,” Goolsby said. “Scott and I are great (together).”
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The conversation got the two pastors talking about how their churches could do more with each other. Dickison invited Goolsby to the New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta this past January, which energized both pastors to move from the talking stage to the action stage.
“The New Baptist Covenant wanted to work through our congregations to bring about racial reconciliation,” Dickison said. “We thought it might be a great way to bring our congregations together. When we got up there, we were moved by the work (the Covenant) was doing. We felt like we had resources. We also found out that we really like each other.”
“We went to the summit and it was powerful,” Goolsby added. “It just took off from there.”
First Baptist Church of Christ was founded as a single church in 1826. According to church records, the church had about 300 members, about 200 of whom were black. Of those, about half the members were slaves.
In the 1840s, the black members formed their own church, separate from the white congregation.
The congregation built a temporary church structure on what is now a parking lot next to First Baptist on New Street.
The white pastor at First Baptist Church of Christ at the time oversaw both churches, Dickison said. While the black congregation had a preacher, Goolsby said, he wasn’t allowed to conduct weddings or funerals or execute any of the other duties of a traditional Baptist minister.
It wasn’t until after 1865 that the congregation finally got a black pastor who could perform all the duties necessary for the church.
Dickison and Goolsby both noted that the churches are similar in design, and they speculated that the same architectural plans or builders may have been employed.
Goolsby, however, did note one key difference.
“You guys have cushions” on the pews, he said with a chuckle.
Since the split, the churches haven’t had much contact with each other, the pastors said. Occasionally, the pastor of one church would be invited to preach at the other’s church, but there wasn’t much more interaction beyond that.
That changed with the current pastors. Goolsby has been pastor at his church for 11 years, while Dickison has been pastor about 2 1/2 years. They said that they found in each other kindred spirits who agreed that a reconciliation between the two churches was long overdue.
“The timing wasn’t right before,” Goolsby said. “But Scott Dickison and I, we have a similar spirit. This is exciting for both congregations. We wanted to do something that will make a difference. So we began planning this worship service.”
“We felt this resonance,” Dickison added. “We found we really like each other.”
In fact, the churches have already come together in a much less formal setting. They held an Easter egg hunt on Palm Sunday, which allowed their members to get to know each other in a relaxed way.
“We use the same patch for our Easter egg hunts, but on different days,” Dickison said. “We thought, ‘Why not do it together?’ We had a great cookout together and a great turnout.”
What surprised both Dickison and Goolsby the most was how many members of both congregations already knew each other through work, school or other activities. That helped make the get-together go smoothly and increased the excitement for the combined service.
Both pastors are working hard to make certain that Sunday’s service isn’t a one-time deal.
Already, Goolsby said, the pastors are working out the details to have a second combined service, this time at First Baptist Church of Christ, before the end of the year. First Baptist Church, the site of Sunday afternoon’s service, is located at 595 New St.
But Dickison and Goolsby said the partnership goes beyond the religious. The two churches are looking to increase their social impact by working together in the community.
Dickison said his congregation aims to take part in the tutoring and literacy programs that First Baptist already has in place.
“(The church service) is kind of a kickoff as to what’s coming afterward,” he said. “We’re working to tutor in the public schools. (First Baptist) is further down the road with the project, but we’re going to jump in together.”
“This is not a one-time thing,” Goolsby said. “Everybody seems very excited about it. We’re in agreement that we want to do something beyond this weekend. ... Both of our youth ministers are working together to give out books to school-age kids in June. And we’re going to have a presence in schools in the fall.
“We’re enjoying the beauty and style of each worship service and adjusting to each other with the thought that there’s one body of Christ.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.