Biracial church service looks to break down old barriers

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- Their hands waving in the air, singing and testifying, members of a predominantly white church...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Their hands waving in the air, singing and testifying, members of Cave Ministries of Saraland, a predominantly white church of motorcycle riders, joined members of Fresh Fire on the Mount, a mostly black church from Eight Mile, for a three-hour extravaganza of music and prayer.

The Sunday service, at the Plateau Community Center in north Mobile, was symbolic of the need for racial healing in the nation, said organizer Rod Odom, a religious program host.

Odom, 49, who had introduced Cave Ministries preacher Bryan Jones to Fresh Fire’s pastor, Aaron McKinnis, said he had wanted to bring whites and blacks together for church since his boyhood during the civil rights movement.

“Sunday mornings are still the most segregated time in America,” Odom said.

“The Lord can use ‘a wretch like me,’” Odom said of his mission to address that separation, borrowing a line from the spiritual, “Amazing Grace.”

Apart from their racial differences, the two churches had clearly different styles during the Aug. 9 service.

Members of Cave, largely adults, were dressed in the garb of their beloved motorcycle riding — bandannas, blue jeans, jackets reading “Soldiers of the Cross” or T-shirts imprinted “My Life, His Way.”

Fresh Fire congregants, a number of whom came in family groups, were decked out in Sunday best — long skirts, coats and ties.

The music, alternating between churches, varied, too.

“It’s black and white,” said Jackie Jones, worship leader of the Cave.

Jones stood behind a microphone alongside another singer and belted out a foot-stomping Christian rock song, “I Am Free.”

When it was the other congregation’s turn, Lolisa Wood, minister of music at Fresh Fire, played deep chords at a portable organ while singing a slow worship song, “Holy, Holy.”

In what McKinnis called “tag-team preaching,” the two pastors took turns at the microphone, their voices resounding off the cinder block walls of the gymnasium.

With a do-rag on his head, Bryan Jones gave an impassioned call for racial equality, raising his hand in the air to praise God, jumping up and down as his sermon gathered its momentum.

“It starts here in Mobile, Ala., and it’s going to spread out like wildfire,” Jones said of bringing black and white congregations together.

“Grab the hand of somebody of another race,” preached McKinnis, “and say, ‘I’m so sorry for anytime I’ve hurt you. Will you forgive me? Will you forgive my ancestors? I’m sorry for the hatred.’”

Throughout the gym, participants did just that, clasping hands, hugging, swaying back and forth together and making confessions to each other.

Tears streaming down her face, Katherine Wright, 42, a member of Fresh Fire who works at the church, rocked side-to-side holding onto Mark English, 48, of Cave Ministries, a disabled ironworker.

Wright told English, she later said, that she had been prejudiced against whites at times in the past.

“I asked him to forgive me,” she said.

English said he had asked Wright, in turn, to forgive him.

“It cursed our generation, our fathers’ and our grandfathers’,” said English. “I’ve had hatred toward black people all my life.”

“Coming here,” he said, “is like a release. This is a wonderful thing, a blessing.”

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