New Memphis preachers, congregations, traditions rise on Easter
Rain and the threat of it Sunday dampened attendance but not spirits at traditional Easter sunrise services at Memorial Park Cemetery and Levitt Shell.
The gloomy weather on the last day of March couldn’t stifle the joy of the first day of the Easter Season as Christians across the city celebrated resurrection, rebirth and renewal.
In South Memphis, members of St. Andrew’s AME Church, encouraged by their pastors to wear something “cute and casual,” started a new tradition by spilling into South Parkway after the service to perform an Easter version of the YouTube sensation “Harlem Shake.” Dr. Kenneth Robinson called it “Resurrection Shake” … “to celebrate new life in Christ and literally shake off the ‘grave clothes’ of their old lives.”
In Midtown, new suits and dresses packed Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on Bellevue, once the home of a Southern Baptist congregation, to hear the new preacher, Rev. J. Lawrence Turner, 32-year-old son of a National Baptist preacher from Nashville, now delivering his first sermon on Resurrection Sunday.
“In the words of the old preachers, bright EARLY Sunday morning HE GOT UP,” Turner tweeted on his way to the same pulpit that has held such legendary Disciples of Christ pastors as Frank A. Thomas, Alvin O. Jackson and Blair T. Hunt.
Turner and his wife, Bridgett, are new Memphians and brand new parents: Josiah, their first child, was born a few weeks ago. The Turners moved to Memphis from New Haven, Conn., where he led a growing, inner-city congregation as well as the city’s public housing authority.
“Miracles need to be tangible,” said Turner, who preached on “The Difference a Day Makes” from the Gospel of Luke. “It’s important for the church to be present to the needs of people, especially in a distressed neighborhood. The church is called to give access to hope.”
Meanwhile, in the distressed Riverview-Kansas neighborhood, a block from Blair T. Hunt Drive, hopeful men and women in new suits and dresses filled Oak Grove Baptist Church, an African-American congregation that recently joined the Southern Baptist Convention.
Members of the Oak Grove congregation gathered earlier than usual so they could carpool over to the Cooper-Young neighborhood to take part in the birth of a new “multicultural, multigenerational, multiethnic, nontraditional” Southern Baptist congregation called Bridge Memphis.
About 200 people — about half of them black and half of them white — gathered at Bridge Memphis, located in the old Galloway United Methodist Church, across the street from First Congregational Church, originally the site of a Southern Baptist congregation and then an independent African-American congregation.
The Easter service began at 10:25 a.m. — a nod to Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Led by a white Southern Baptist from Mississippi and a black Southern Baptist from Memphis, members of the newborn congregation encouraged one another by praising the Lord and praying for each other. They passed the peace and the plate. They shared communion. They sang “Amazing Grace” with the Kitchings family and “Why Do You Cry” with the Oak Grove choir.
“This is a great challenge,” said Rev. James Kendrick, Oak Grove’s longtime pastor who is sponsoring Bridge Memphis on behalf of Rev. Hal Kitchings, former pastor of Germantown Baptist Church, now founding pastor of a congregation formed to bridge the racial divide.
“Pastor Kitchings has clear blue eyes, mine are dark brown,” Kendrick told the congregation Sunday, “but we are brothers. We have the same Father and different mothers.”
Kitchings, the son and grandson of Southern Baptist pastors, calls himself a “recovering racist.” In his book, “Three Mississippi,” Kitchings says he was convinced of the need to start a multiracial church after hearing so much race-based rancor about last year’s presidential campaign.
“Christ suffered and died for us to destroy hostility between races,” said Kitchings, who preached from 2 Corinthians. “He connects us all. He is the bridge.”