The HFF Racial Bridging Focus Group realizes the importance of relationship building as a foundation for racial bridging. This Focus Group gathers for pastors, ministry leaders and community members to meet and network, learn and discuss race and other local issues, and pray for each other and our city.
- Organize a regular meeting for pastors, ministry leaders and community members to meet and network, learn and discuss race and other local issues, and pray for each other and the city.
- Support and promote the current Helping Florence Flourish citywide service and prayer efforts.
- Encourage inter-church fellowship and worship to help build trust and friendships.
- Promote Unity Sunday annually.
In early 2017, HFF brought Pastor Tony Evans to the Florence Civic Center to teach our city about Oneness Embraced, uniting the racial divide. Thousands joined together for two days at the Florence Civic Center to hear Pastor Evans give us a biblical and pastoral guide for striving for unity across racial and socioeconomic divides in Florence, SC. A 200+ voice choir of all races and denominations from our area led the worship. With the Bible as a guide and Heaven as the goal, “Oneness Embraced “calls God’s people to kingdom-focused unity. It tells us why we don’t have it, what we need to get it, and what it will look like when we do. Our prayer is for a significant impact on the body of Christ. We followed up the event with a seven week Bible Study of Oneness Embraced meeting at various area churches.
Focus Group Journey and Recommendations
The Helping Florence Flourish Racial Bridging Focus Group meets once a month at Cumberland UMC. At the first meeting, we immediately realized the importance of relationship building as a foundation for racial bridging. The first few months centered on discussions of current race-related events; storytelling and listening; and building trust through frank and honest conversations. In between monthly meetings, focus group members intentionally had a meal with someone from a different race or worshiped at a church predominately of the opposite race. This intentional effort broke down barriers, fostered understanding of cultural differences, and lead to the “Cousin” concept (we are all related through God’s creation and related as members in Christ’s body).
The group worked in parallel to the relationship building by reaching out to the community and an established organization for ideas and guidance. The group wanted the perspective of multiple generations and interviewed high school student to government leaders on the issue. The Survey Results Summary below shows the next generation’s perspective on the race barriers and solutions.
Next the group reached out to The Welcome Table at The Winter Institute in Mississippi. The institute was founded in 1999 with a mission to build more inclusive communities. They have a well established and proven method to help communities and the primary objectives are listed below. The Objectives below shows the guideposts set by the Welcome Table when having small group discussions about race. We also learned they are working with leaders in Columbia, SC and USC to bring the initiative to South Carolina. An important resource The Welcome Table can provide is a best practice for moderated discussions and cultural understanding.
The Welcome Table assists partner communities to:
- Understand the importance of listening, storytelling and relationship-building as prerequisites to producing real and measurable change
- Understand the consequences of the systems we have inherited, in order to develop, together, community-specific initiatives to redress inequities
- Become equipped with the communications tools to accomplish the goals stakeholders identify together to improve their communities
- Share the process with members of their own community and other communities
The Racial Bridging Focus Group has reached out into the community in two ways. The first was through hosting a coffee fellowship after a Citywide Prayer event. This was in an effort to encourage racial togetherness. Second, the group began to host a pastors’ breakfast. During our first breakfast meeting, the group surveyed the pastors who attended and collected 16 surveys. The Appendix below lists the survey questions and results. The survey showed a unanimous response that racial bridging and healing is the church’s responsibility, interest in a Unity Sunday, and to work toward solutions.