This past Sunday I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The Altar Call, a call to prayer for the Greater Akron Area, took place on Main Street and gave me a taste of what heaven will be like. The theme for this annual 4-hour prayer event was, “A Call to Racial Reconciliation.” The afternoon was filled with great music, testimonies, close to 20 baptisms, outstanding preaching by Pastors James Talbert and Jacob Ley, repentance, exhortations and hot dogs galore. It was a Christian love fest at its best.
What made this annual call to prayer different from the previous two, was a greater participation from a wide diversity of pastors who represented congregations from the urban and suburban communities, different racial and ethnic communities, and different church traditions. Another factor that made this Altar Call different was that leadership was made up of predominately younger pastors from Summit County who found a way to work together as a team. As one of the oldest ministers in the group, it made my heart leap for joy as I watched this new generation of leaders step up to the plate and hit a grand slam home run.
The timing and theme of Sunday’s prayer meeting on Main Street could not have come at a better time in this season of our nation’s history. I don’t need to waste space cluttering up this blog reiterating the nasty climate that is poisoning our nation like a toxic waste dump. These young pastors proved that we can and will do better on the home front than is being demonstrated on many other different fronts.
There were many memorable statements made at the event, but Pastors Talbert and Ley laid the racial tension on the table with gentleness, honesty and great wisdom. Pastor James Talbert, a brother of color who is Lead Pastor at Citizen’s Akron, addressed the “black” community with boldness and brokenness. He acknowledged that history has given “his people” plenty to be angry about and acting as though it didn’t occur or pretending it still doesn’t occur today would be “another slap in the face” (my words) to the pain of the past and present. However, Pastor Talbert said, “As black Christians the greater commitment should be to reconciliation not reparations.”
Pastor Jacob Ley, Lead Pastor at The Chapel’s church plant campus in Kenmore, spoke directly and boldly to the “white” Christians with equal passion and authentic transparency. He stated that as a white community we must not ignore the oppression and inequality that our black brothers and sisters have endured over the course of our country’s history. To deny white privilege and the present day oppression which our black brothers and sisters live with every day is both dishonest and communicates a clear insensitivity. Pastor Ley said it was time for the white race to weep with the black race and reject the tendency to “place the past behind us and just hurry up and move on.” I said a loud AMEN to both of these modern day prophets.
One of the things that Pastor De’Juan Kelker, Lead Pastor of Burning Bush Church, stressed was that this was not the end but just the beginning, that other events and strategies to keep us knit together would follow. It was Pastor Kelker who birthed the idea of the Altar Call, and he shared the vision with his close friend, Pastor Mayceo Smith, Lead Pastor at City of Joy, and they yoked together, and the rest is history which is still making history.
So, where do we go from here? My answer is, “Back on our knees!” so the fire won’t go out on the altar. We also must intentionally reach out and build relationships with people who don’t look like us. Pastor Lori Porter, Lead Pastor at The Church Akron, said that at the very first Altar Call, rain threatened all throughout the event, but the rain never came, thank God. This year, though, we welcomed a different kind of rain falling down from heaven. It was the REIGN of Christ being carried out through His Church.
At the end of the day, Pastor Lori, who is an African American woman, shared that a young woman of the lighter hue came up to her. This young lady, Laura, and her husband were on their way to their car when it dawned on her that she hadn’t connected with anyone of another race, something all attendees had been challenged to do. She and her husband returned back to the event, and she connected with Pastor Lori. They exchanged contact information and actually have an afternoon tea planned to get together and get acquainted. God bless Pastor Lori and Laura and may their kind increase! Already the after-effects of the Altar Call are being felt, and Jesus is answering the cries of His children with the same prayer He prayed in John 17, “that we would be one.”
Photo: Pastors Lori Porter, Mark Ford, and Randy Baker pray together at the Akron Altar Call
-Courtesy of Germayne Griffin of Lonnie Griffin Photography