Cincinnati racial reconciliation brings inner peace to inner city
(March 24, 2002)
A week before Cincinnati police shot and killed an African-American
man last April, inciting riots, First Christian Assembly of God in the
heart of the city already was addressing racial issues.
Members of First Christian Assembly reflect diversity and unity.
Phyllis Shippy, an African-American woman, had started a Cultural Perspectives
Sunday school class in the mostly white church. "I teach from Ephesians
5, which says we are all members of the body of Christ," Shippy says.
"The object of the class is to discuss issues openly without hostility."
The class is one of several results after Pastor Chris Beard prayed
for specific ways to reach the African-American community around his
church, which has remained predominantly white despite cultural changes
in the neighborhood.
"We wanted to reach people where they were and relate to them," he
Soon after Beard began praying, Pastor Ezra Maize, on staff at a nearby
African-American church, called him and asked if the church was ready
for its first African-American pastor.
Four days after the riots with a curfew still in effect
the church board met and hired Maize.
Beards dedication to reaching African-Americans is real, according
to Maize. "He has established relationships that allow him to say things
in love that most whites couldnt, such as speaking out against
the riots," Maize says. "Most would have been too intimidated to say
that. To him, right is right and wrong is wrong."
That boldness and intercultural relationship building began while Beard
was an associate pastor at the church before becoming senior pastor
last year. During the previous three years, Beard co-led a cross-cultural
group from several churches interested in racial restoration.
As a result of those relationships, Beard and Maize know each others
hearts. "Ezra has a unique gift with young people and ministering outside
the church body," Beard says. "He is prominent in our schools and community."
Likewise, Maize says Beard is an encouragement and inspiration to him.
"He preaches from the Word of God. He says things we all need to hear."
People of all racial backgrounds are joining First Christian Assembly
because of that combination of leadership. Peter and Mandy DeGraff,
a white couple who moved to Cincinnati from South Africa, settled on
the church after visiting nine others.
"Coming from an apartheid system, we feel strongly about equality,"
Mandy says. "The people here at church seem to embody the heart of Christ.
They look at the inside, not the outside."
Maria Jones and her husband, Larry, along with their four children
ages 5 to 16, had been attending a majority African-American church
before joining First Christian Assembly. "We need to learn to see Christ
as He sees us," she says. "He doesnt see color."
According to Maria, First Christian Assemblys cooperation with
other area churches is helping to improve the neighborhood. "We have
done prayer walks and street ministry with other congregations and have
seen people come to know Christ as their Savior as a result," she says.
Racial healing will only happen in Cincinnati when people learn its
OK to accept other cultures, she says.
Maize offers a different salve for racial wounds. "Its not a
racial problem," he says. "Its a hurting problem. We have to deal
with hurting people. When we recognize our differences and realize we
are all in this together, the hurting will end and racial reconciliation
will strengthen in Cincinnati."