What do you get when you mix great Southern food, Jesus and anti-racism work?
The New-Orleans based nonprofit Mission Reconcile.
Mission Reconcile works to create racial reconciliation between predominantly single-race churches through shared worship, intentional conversations on understanding racism, and of course, food and fellowship.
Established in 2017, the organization facilitates conversations and fellowship between churches of different racial and cultural backgrounds with guided questions and sharing of stories and food. Through this process, congregations get together to have honest conversations about culture, race and what it means to be reconcilers as Christian believers.
The pandemic has prevented churches from sharing in-person meals during Mission Reconcile events, but the events have continued virtually. This includes virtual event series titled, “A Conversation On,” where presenters discuss a topic through the lens of racial reconciliation in the church.
In the Path to Reconciliation program, what are called “Courageous Churches” — two churches of differing backgrounds in a community — host each other for Sunday services, complete with food and fellowship.
During fellowship, Mission Reconcile hosts a conversation with intentional questions designed to help the members get to know each other and create relationships that last beyond Sunday lunch – an important New Orleans tradition.
In 2019, the Rev. Dr. Jay Augustine was senior pastor of Historic St. James AME Church, which has a majority Black congregation, when his church participated in Mission Reconcile’s Path to Reconciliation Program with St. Paul’s United Church, which is majority white.
“In New Orleans, food is a central part of socialization,” said Augustine, now the senior pastor of St. Joseph AME Church in Durham, N.C. “That allowed us to break down many social barriers and presumptions that are quite frankly part of the social experience of living in and in my case, of having grown up in the South.”
For Augustine, participating in the Path to Reconciliation Program was a natural move. He calls himself a pastor who is engaged in reconciliation work, who also has a legal background. His forthcoming book on racial reconciliation within the Church, “Called to Reconciliation: How the Church Can Model Justice, Diversity and Inclusion” will be published in January 2022.
Setting the table set the table for having complex conversations about race, he said.
“We were comfortable over food after having worship together. We broke down barriers, and we were literally able to have a space of comfort and belonging that was safe enough for us to address matters of social concern,” he said.
“They are matters that in some regards would not have been addressed because of the racially homogeneous pockets we live in, we work in, and worship in.”
He credits Mission Reconcile cofounder Kahlida Nicole Lloyd for creating the space to address such topics.
Mission Reconcile teaches congregations how racial homogeneousness can cause churches to overlook problems within.
For example, the Rev. Dr. Jay Hogewood, a senior pastor at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, presented during a recent event on American Christian Nationalism.
Hogewood, who started his ministry in the Southern Baptist church, but was later ordained in the Methodist church, supports sociologist Philip Gorski’s definition of American Christian Nationalism as “a political idolatry dressed up as religious orthodoxy.”
Additionally, Hogewood calls it a “pseudo Christian religion on steroids, including white supremacy, nativism, glorification of straightness and toxic sanction of authoritarian national leadership with a sick heap of militarism.”
The A Conversation On event was organized in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Although the topic of the term “evangelical” is a sore spot for Hogewood, he said there’s little question that white evangelicalism is now often equated with racism and white nationalism in America.
“I do believe the two are essentially synonymous because white supremacy in the evangelical tradition has been so ingrained for so many of us that it can help but be synonymous,” he said.
The riot on Jan. 6 exemplifies that, he said. Rioters displayed Christianity-themed symbols and banners during the riot, including images of Jesus wearing a MAGA hat, flags bearing a “Jesus 2020” slogan and a “Jesus Saves” sign.
These symbols displayed on Jan. 6 and other examples of how Christians have endorsed hate through discrimination are important to understanding what Christian Nationalism is, Hogewood said.
He argues the behaviors and opinions displayed at the Capitol on Jan. 6 were nothing new, but rather a more organized display of what’s been happening within some sects of Christianity for a long time.
Hogewood said he would encourage white pastors to look at Paul’s writing in Galatians 3 when considering issues of American Christian Nationalism.
“Paul says there’s neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female in Christ. For people like me who have for too long, and without second thought, benefited from systems that are deeply evil or have evil in them, maybe the scriptural perspective is helpful. Paul didn’t have to speak of Galatian nationalism. (He spoke of) celebrating a decision of discipleship,” he said.
Through Mission Reconcile’s events, pastors and the Mission Reconcile team is able to set the table, literally and figuratively, for congregations to celebrate this decision to follow Christ. These shared experiences and new friendships aim to help congregants understand how much they had in common, despite different backgrounds.
Sharing a meal, Augustine said, “created a space where we were able to just talk with one another and really realize that the old cliche is true: What unites us is far greater than that which divides us.”
Creating common ground through sharing food is an intentional part of Mission Reconcile’s events, said COO and cofounder Danielle Blevins.
She explained that Jesus himself described feeding another person as an act of love and care in the Book of Matthew, Chapter 25.
“People across cultures, languages — you name it — we eat. We have to eat. What better way to show that you love and care about someone than eating,” Blevins said.
The hope is that through these events, congregations in the same community will form friendships and connections that will last after the church members leave the fellowship hall, Blevins said.
If you’re looking to better understand what racial reconciliation is or how to start having those conversations with your pastor or congregation, Mission Reconcile has a list of books, movies and podcasts to help you get started. To learn more about Mission Reconcile’s events, or inquire about hosting an event at your church, visit the Mission Reconcile website.