On Being Church - a blog

Black History Month

A History and Reflection on the Land before WRPC (Part II) - written by Vann Evans

WRPC was born in the segregated South. The deed to the church’s earliest lots in Fairmont, like so many neighborhoods in Raleigh and throughout the country, included restrictive covenants prohibiting the sale of property to “negroes or to any person of negro blood” and barred people of color from residing there. Only “domestic servants and their families” employed by property owners were exempted. The deeds included a number of other restrictions set to expire in the next decade, but the prohibition on Black ownership and occupancy was to remain permanent. In this environment, WRPC flourished.

This was the West Raleigh my great grandfather relocated to from Atlanta in the 1930s. With a high school education, his racial views were probably typical of many white families of his day if not worse, and the commute to downtown Raleigh from where he worked was convenient. With a trolley line that extended down Hillsboro just past Horne Street, and the automobile’s increasing affordability, West Raleigh’s suburbs grew quickly. The Evans family rented a newly constructed home on Clark Avenue before buying nearby and joined Fairmont Methodist.

Spurred by enrollment at N.C. State which increased from around 1300 in 1927, the year WRPC was chartered, to over 5000 by 1948, and residential growth up and down Hillsboro Street, businesses flocked to the area. My great grandfather’s was one of those. The linen supply business he managed moved from downtown to a newly constructed facility on Hillsboro Street and opened around 1941. Photographs show a workforce segregated by race and responsibility. I’ve often wondered if the Black men and women employed there lived in nearby Method or Oberlin, or what they thought as they commuted up and down Hillsboro Street past a university that would not admit its first African American students until 1953 (graduate) and 1956 (undergraduates). Did their exclusion from company picnics bother them? Were the sites--perhaps segregated city or state parks—intentionally selected to exclude them? What did Ellen McGuire, a previously enslaved woman who retired in 1939 from N.C. State after a long career, think about these slights?

bhm 1Pictured Right: African-American workers at Raleigh Linen, located just west of WRPC, 1941

As they made the journey to work each day, these workers possibly looked over to the north side of Hillsboro Street and reminisced about the grand African American State Fair held there between 1879 and 1925, or yearned for a time where they could enjoy the fair at its new site. When the Agricultural Society sold its lands in 1926 and the State Fair relocated further west to its current site in 1928 after a two-year hiatus, the African American Fair’s officials gained approval to hold the fair one more year, but the state legislature refused this privilege in 1929 and stopped its annual appropriation. The last African American State Fair was held in 1930, and for the next eighteen years, Black North Carolinians were prohibited by law from attending the State Fair. A few years after WWII, the fair installed African American exhibits as a concession but it remained segregated until 1965.

My job affords regular reminders of the evils of segregation, racial prejudice, and their legacy. But as easy as it is to be discouraged by these discoveries, I find hope in the stories of perseverance, hard work, and accomplishment displayed by countless Black men and women who have made Raleigh a better place and the examples of cooperation that continue to inspire. The Method community’s Berry O’Kelly, a successful business and civic leader who helped promote African-American education, is just one of those leaders. The auditorium at the Berry O’Kelly School stands as a reminder of one on the colossal achievements of this period. With generous support of Julius Rosenwald, the Sears and Roebuck executive whose philanthropy helped improve education for thousands of African American children throughout the rural South, Black communities in towns and rural North Carolina communities across the state contributed moneys, labor, and materials toward the construction of new schools and campus buildings. Their funding and maintenance were aided by state and local governments, as Rosenwald stipulated, a lesson that with commitment, resources, and cooperation, even the most imposing obstacles might be conquered. The Rosenwald schools that still survive remain a source of pride for the graduates and communities.

bhm 2I’m awed by the bravery of students and their families, ordinary but extraordinary young people like Oberlin Village resident, Joe Holt, Jr., who attempted to integrate Raleigh’s public schools in the face of threats and opposition. Or the N.C. State students who integrated the nearby university which played such an important role in the growth and life of WRPC.

Pictured Left: Joe H. Holt, 1957.

And I’m fascinated by the story of Percy High, a Shaw University student who went on to become a Baptist minister in the Triangle, and is seen below integrating Pullen Park’s Pool in August 1962. High told reporters at the time, “We didn’t come here to integrate the pool. We came here to swim. We were riding around, it was hot and we decided we wanted to go swimming. We had the money in our pockets, so we got the tickets.” Although I know there was a little more planning and coordination involved, when I recently spoke to one of the young men who accompanied High on that hot August day, he reiterated the importance of love and friendship.

bhm 3Pictured Right: Integration of Pullen Park Pool, August 1962.

Women played an instrumental role in the Civil Rights movement, and none was more important than Ella Baker, who grew up in nearby Lillington, NC. Baker organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960 at Shaw University a few months after the sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. and Nashville, TN. Young people at N.C. State and in Raleigh and across the South would embrace her message of nonviolence as they endured racism during the boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and voter registration drives of the 1960s.

There were those influential Black leaders who worked out of the public eye and behind the scenes in the business community, like High Point’s Bob Brown, one of Martin Luther King’s closest confidents. As a public relations consultant, Brown raised money for the Civil Rights movement and played an instrumental role convincing businesses to integrate their workplaces and stores. When I spoke with him about two years ago, he shared the importance of his faith.

And I was reminded by the recent CBS Sports documentary, “Big House, the Pearl, and the Triumph of Winston-Salem State” about the power of friendship and admiration forged in competition. Whether as teammates or adversaries, sports have a long history of healing divisions and racial wounds. Some of my most enduring childhood friendships are rooted in sports. The Winston-Salem State men’s basketball team was the first historically black college to win a NCAA championship of any kind. The Wake Forest standout basketball player, Billy Packer, later a coach and commentator, recounts a story of bringing the Winston-Salem State basketball team to Wake Forest’s campus during the 1966-1967 season for a secret scrimmage. The documentary shows footage of white and Black fans sitting together, cheering the team, admiring the play of the flashy guard from South Philly, Earl “the Pearl,” Monroe.

Black History Month

A History and Reflection on the Land before WRPC -written by Vann Evans

On different occasions, several members of the congregation have asked me about the significance of historical markers close to WRPC or the restrictive racial covenants in the deeds to our church property. These questions reflect our congregation’s curiosity and appetite for learning, our wrestling with the problems and divisions our country faces and the role of the church, and a recognition that the intersection of Horne and Vanderbilt has not always been a “community of God’s people, nurtured in the love of Jesus Christ, supporting each other and reaching out to the campus, city and world beyond.”

Annual Meeting

Sunday, February 7th, Following Worship

Dear Members & Friends of West Raleigh,

This Sunday, West Raleigh will hold our Annual Meeting. The Presbyterian Book of Order and the State of North Carolina require.  The congregation will receive reports from the Finance Committee, the Board of Trustees, the Personnel Committee and the Nominating Committee, but more than that, this meeting is a place where the whole congregation gathers to look back at the previous year and prepare for the year ahead.  Although the format will be very different this year, the spirit of the meeting remains the same.

Grieving, Growing

The nation was captivated by Amanda Gorman yesterday.  The Youth Poet Laureate who was asked to write a poem for the inauguration of the President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.  Ms. Gorman’s words were gorgeous. She delivered them with delicate strength.  I cried as I watched my daughters absorb her words as she offered them to the country. 

Epiphany

It all happened on Epiphany. 

New parents held their infant child close, keeping him fed and warm, watching him breathe, smelling his head while he slept.  The moment was so full of love and hope, yet even then then his parents knew the way forward was not going to be easy. 

The Beeloved Garden is Buzzing

We have bees!  On Saturday, November 21 Alice Hinman of Apiopolis delivered Hank, the bee colony rescued from an open air hive in October.  The bees are now located in a new hive in the garden.  Alice will visit periodically to feed them sugar syrup infused with herbs that will help them get through the winter.  Here are the answers to some questions about the bees:

Your vote, your voice

Written by Dawn Comfort

The late Rep. John Lewis fought for the right of all citizens, especially minorities, to vote. He stated, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

"See No Stranger"

It was 2017 and I was newly pregnant with my first child. However, amid this joyous occasion hate crimes were on the rise, immigrants were being detained and caged at the border, black lives were continuing to be in jeopardy, and white supremacists were organizing and newly emboldened. It was the beginning of an especially dark time in our country’s history.  It was during that time when I also had the opportunity to hear these words from civil rights leader, Valarie Kaur:

Love the Lord your God with heart, mind and strength.

It matters that we continue to seek and dwell in the mind and heart of God, a voice often difficult to hear midst the clamor of the culture.

Though we miss gathering together in person on Sunday mornings the dedication of leadership and the magic of technology enables our continued growth and nurture in Christian Formation.  Three adult classes meet by zoom, either collectively around conversations such as the Friends of Oberlin Village panel or separately around specific topics they have chosen to engage.

Two important opportunities are being offered in October and November.  Whether you attend a class or not, come join in!

On October 11th and 18th Rev. Dr. Vanessa Hawkins (read bio) will facilitate conversation around the significant writing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.     Please read the letter here and/or listen to Dr. King read the letter here.

On November 8th, 15th and 22nd Rev. Katie Cashwell* will facilitate conversations utilizing the book See No Stranger; A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love written by Valerie Kaur.

The book may be purchased on line…print or Kindle….or contact Lori by October 21st when she will place a bulk order. (Cost will be determined by quantity ordered)

*Rev. Katie Cashwell and her family have been worshipping at WRPC since moving to Raleigh in the summer of 2019.  Katie has served congregations in Washington, DC and Annapolis.  Katie most recently served for five years on staff at Montreat, working with the youth, college and women’s conferences. In addition to being full time mom for her two young sons Katie enjoys yoga, baking, reading fiction and plenty of outdoor activities.  When recently received as a member of New Hope Presbytery Katie wrote: “I believe the church should be a leader in exploring how the Christian faith might best offer its voice to pressing contemporary issues.”

WRPC is fortunate to have the leadership of both these accomplished women on topics that are quite pertinent to our wider conversations during this challenging time of pandemic and political upheaval.

Thanks, again, to the Christian Formation Committee and Sunday School class leaders who facilitate these and other meaningful presentations that encourage spiritual care and centering.

Fall 2020 Adult Christian Formation schedule  
 

Dismantling Racism: What Can We Do?

Shortly after George Floyd’s death, many members and friends of West Raleigh joined the national reckoning on racism that swept the nation. The cries of generations of pain, trauma and lament burst into the open air and onto streets of the Summer of 2020.  The invisible and institutional walls keeping communities of Color separated, segregated from white people were pierced with protests and lament.  The gates opened; the flood of emotions released, and it remains my deepest hope and prayer that, ultimately, this painful moment in history will release us all from the prison of our own bias.

Taking Root in Tomorrow, Nourished by Yesterday

For our second Community Impact Challenge, we are celebrating Oberlin Village and support ing the efforts of Friends of Oberlin Village.

Worship Committee Update

 

The Book of Order reminds us, “The first Christians worshiped at the temple and in synagogues, homes, catacombs, and prisons. The important thing was not the place, but the gathering of Christ’s body— the people of God—and the presence of Christ among them in Word and Sacrament. Later the Church began to build special places to meet for worship. To this day, space for Christian worship is primarily established by the presence of the risen Lord and the communion of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of the people of God” (W 1.0203). 

Voting Conversation Starters

This is an update of a post that initially appeared in August. 

20201010 173648In an effort to trap Jesus, a group of church leaders asked him if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor.  Jesus had them pull a coin from their pocket as he replied, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Although they were trying to trick Jesus, he was not trying to trick them.  The answer was clear – all things come from God and all things belong to God.  Everything, including, especially, our money and our power are to be used to glorify God.  Money, paying taxes, how government spends our tax dollars, and by extension, voting are all ways that we participate in the right ordering of our common community.  Although Presbyterians strongly advocate in a separation of church and state, we advocate just as strongly that Christians engage and participate in the political process.  This week’s conversation starter is on voting. Below are some conversation starters to get us thinking and talking about how, as people of faith, we will engage in the political process this fall as well as some information on voting. 

  • The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) begins with the Biblical and theological foundations of our form of government. The Great Ends of the Church (F. 1.0304) provide order and shape to the Christian life.  Our call begins with “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind” and culminates in “the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”  How does this ordering shape how we participate in the political process?

The Great Ends of the Church are:          
the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
the maintenance of divine worship;
the preservation of the truth;
the promotion of social righteousness; and
the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

  • 20201010 173609Although Presbyterians strongly advocate in a separation of church and state, we advocate just as strongly that Christians engage and participate in the political process. How does this institutional separation provide accountability for both church and government?  How does responsible civic engagement call believers to put faith into action?
  • We often hear phrases like “voting our values.” What are the gospel values that you want to translate into how you vote?  What research do you need to do to make gospel-informed decisions about candidates running in local, state and national races this fall?
  • Our national political climate is contentious at best and toxic at worst. This repels many Christians from the political process; yet, our call as Christians remains to stay engaged.  What does that look like to you?  How can we be a part of changing the way we talk to one another?  Will that change the outcome of the conversation?
  • Information is critical to making gospel-informed decisions. Here is some information on voting that has been compiled by members of West Raleigh.  This information will remain on our website through Election Day. 

Community Impact Challenge

Written by Renee Goldsmith

The many needs that have emerged in 2020 as we weather the pandemic, civil unrest, natural disasters and perhaps even pestilences (we hear the cicadas are coming back) make it difficult to know how and where best to try to help.  That’s one reason the Mission, Peace and Justice Committee has chosen to create a series of Community Impact Challenges to give members a chance to learn about the needs of a local group or agency and consider making a financial gift.

Your Vote is Your Voice

written by Susan Randolph

The late Rep. John Lewis fought for the right of all citizens, especially minorities, to vote. He stated, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

Race Equity Challenge

We have always been a confessing people, people who understand the necessity of confessing our sin and the way that our sin-sick souls infect the institutions we build, and people who confess our faith in the power of God to create, redeem and heal. We believe in the necessity of reformation and the promise that the church we love is always being reformed by God.