Racial Reconciliation Sunday is Feb. 25.
During the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as famously saying that “11 a.m. on Sunday mornings was the most segregated hour of American life.”
Roughly 60 years later, King’s statement continues to ring true in many cases.
And yet something recently took place in Memphis — a city that has been rife with racial tension through the years — that demonstrates how God’s love is more powerful than racial division.
Egypt Baptist Church of Raleigh, a white congregation, and Chief Cornerstone Church of Frayser, an African-American congregation, have merged into one church — forming a fully racially blended congregation.
Both churches voted unanimously in favor of the merger during a joint business meeting in October, and the two churches officially consolidated — and held their first service together — on Dec. 17, 2023.
‘No longer two churches’
“This has brought an enthusiasm to our church family as they see God doing something so totally unexpected in our midst,” said Steve Jacobson, pastor of Egypt Baptist Church. “We are no longer two churches. We have come together as the Egypt Baptist Church family.”
Jacobson has continued in his role as senior pastor at the church. Preston Poindexter, former pastor of Chief Cornerstone Church, serves as associate pastor.
The two men — who have known each other for years — discussed the possibility of “co-pastoring,” but decided that would not be the best idea due to Poindexter’s other ongoing ministries.
Through the years, the two church bodies have gathered for special events and then gone their separate ways.
Now, though, the two are one.
Danny Sinquefield, Harvest Field One Team Leader for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said the merger serves as an example of how God’s people can overcome obstacles when they allow themselves to be used for His glory.
“The story of these two churches coming together in Great Commission unity is a testimony of the promise of Jesus that He would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it,” said Sinquefield.
The two churches were each averaging about 20 attendees on Sunday prior to the merger. In recent months, the Chief Cornerstone congregation had began putting plans together to relocate due to vandalism.
Jacobson reached out to Poindexter about a potential merger, and soon the ball was rolling.
Chief Cornerstone Church sold their building and officially closed its doors on Dec. 15. Just two days later, the two churches were worshiping together.
At the end of the service, the attendees formed a circle, held hands and sang, “We are one in the bond of love.”
“Seeing Egypt Baptist and Chief Cornerstone come together is a beautiful story of God’s amazing grace,” Sinquefield said.
Those involved with the merger said it was awesome to watch the details unfold in a way that only God could have orchestrated.
For instance, the fact that Poindexter taught Bible study on Wednesday nights at Egypt Baptist many years ago — a small and seemingly insignificant detail — ultimately played a large role in opening the door for the merger.
“It’s truly amazing to see in hindsight what God was preparing, and it’s a reminder that His timetable is not necessarily ours, but His is always right,” Jacobson said. “This could not have been accomplished with any other church and only God could have brought these things together.”
Growing sense of harmony
Sinquefield said the merger demonstrates the unity that is building among the churches in Memphis.
“I am so thankful for the growing sense of harmony among our partner churches in the Memphis area to work together,” said Sinquefield.
Jacobson said the merger has energized the church with a new sense of purpose.
“As (Poindexter) and I discussed, there have been many situations where black and white churches come together for special crusades or evangelistic rallies, and then go back to being black and white churches,” he said.
“It is true that in many cases there are worship styles that keep us separate, and that’s okay. It’s when our skin color causes (the separation) that it is contrary to the gospel message.”
Egypt Baptist, which has been in existence for over 200 years, called Jacobson as pastor in November of 2022.
Jacobson noted that one of the Egypt Baptist church members recently came to him and said that he was very much in favor of the merger. The member went on to say that the merger could save both churches. When Jacobson reminded him that it could also be a key in reaching the community, the member replied, “I hadn’t thought about that,” Jacobson said.
Bringing people together
Jacobson said he hopes the merger can be an example to the Memphis area of how God’s love can bring people together.
“I have been concerned for many years about the racial division in Memphis and how the Church could make the gospel much more effective if we demonstrated that the gospel is truly color-blind,” said Jacobson.
Sinquefield said that is exactly what is taking place.
“This merger is a beautiful reminder to all of us that God’s love is more powerful than the enemy’s relentless and ruthless attempts to divide, separate and isolate God’s people,” said Sinquefield.