ALBANY — What began as a harmonious relationship between a declining Anglo church and a growing African American church plant ended April 3 when Mallary Baptist Association disfellowshipped Raleigh White Baptist Church on grounds of racism.
After two years of intervention between the church and New Seasons Church by the Association and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, the Association’s Executive Committee voted unanimously to remove the church from its membership roll. The vote ends a 75-year relationship with the Anglo congregation since it was founded and joined the Association in 1943.
The action also included returning to Raleigh White all of its contributions through this year.
Before the vote the Association had 53 churches, which has now been diminished by one. Forty-five Executive Committee members representing 26 churches attended the meeting, noted Director of Missions Hans Wunch.
“No one wants to see the churches in our Association succeed more than I do. There may be some who want it as much, but none more than I do,” Wunch told The Index.
It was the first time in recent history – and in the nearly three years since Wunch has served the Association – that a special meeting of the Executive Committee had been called. A regular meeting is set for later this month but the group felt recent events, after repeated attempts at mediation had failed, pushed the issue to the front burner.
The story began in June 2015 when Raleigh White pastor Ronnie Kinsaul, seeing the church’s steady decline in a transitional neighborhood, sought an African American church planter to partner with the congregation. That materialized in the form of Georgia Baptist church planter Marcus Glass and his small-yet-growing congregation named New Seasons Church, which was meeting elsewhere.
Anglo church very accommodating at the outset …
The wedding went well. Raleigh White even agreed to shift its morning worship from the traditional 11 a.m. time slot to 9:45 a.m. to accommodate the church plant.
The expectation by some was that as the Anglo church continued its decline, the African American group would grow and eventually become the dominant congregation. Unfortunately, only half of that equation came true.
In time the Anglo congregation did decline as members died or moved away. New Seasons’ aggressive evangelistic outreach resulted in 78 individuals baptized in 2016, 80 in 2017, and 5 thus far this year. Popular with local military personnel who came and went with transfers, the congregation still managed to grow to 130 members while, as of last count, Raleigh White eventually numbered only 20 – even though it claims 253 on the Southern Baptist Convention website.
New Seasons made a name for itself through a strong commitment to community outreach. When tornadoes in January 2017 ravaged much of South Georgia, New Seasons was on the front lines, establishing the Raleigh White facilities as a donation and distribution center for supplies. The outreach further cemented its commitment to ministering to the Albany community.
…but the relationship begin deteriorating within six months
But Glass says he noticed a cooling of the relationship within six months of being allowed to share Raleigh White’s facilities. As the congregation added members, it began to use more of the church’s facilities … the gym with the basketball court, fellowship hall, Sunday School rooms …
Sources say a number of Raleigh White’s members eventually no longer shared their pastor’s vision of the future. Disagreements became common but were papered over with superficial complaints such as saying New Seasons members did not return dinner plates to their proper storage location on kitchen shelves. The specter of racism was there, but hard to pin down.
As tensions continued to boil but not boil over, the Mission Board – through state missionaries and church planter consultants like Jimmy Baughcum – increased the mediation with little success. One step forward, two steps back as Baughcum observed. Wunch approached Raleigh White with fellow pastors who worked for middle ground but found none.
The Raleigh White pastor retired – some sources say he was fired – in December 2017, worn out by the process. But New Seasons honored him with a special service where they collected a love offering as he entered retirement.
Conditions deteriorated further this year when Raleigh White planned its annual homecoming and basically disinvited the African American congregation. On February 18 it gave 30-day notice to New Seasons that it would not be able to use its facilities until 2:30 p.m. on the day of its homecoming event, set for March 18.
Glass tried to discuss the inconvenience it would mean for his congregation which would basically delay its services by several hours … even though the church would not be needing the facility for the entire six hours it was requesting. Raleigh White relented and agreed to allow New Seasons to begin their services at noon, just 30 minutes later than normal.
Worshippers turned away at the door
The problem came to a head on the day of the homecoming when visitors, unaware of the change, showed up early for the worship service and were turned away at the doors of the church. A daughter of one of the visitors asked to use the restroom and was told she could use the convenience store down the road. It was suggested to other visitors that they remain in their cars until their service began.
One pastor, whose wife had passed away, showed up early to discuss his wife’s funeral arrangements with Glass who was going to preside at her memorial service. He was likewise turned away.
That event was too much for churches in the Association with the racism now being played out in the open. Three days later, on March 21, the Administrative Committee met and voted to recommend a motion to remove Raleigh White from fellowship.
Five days later, on March 26, Wunch, Moderator William “Butch” Knight, and Associate Moderator Chad Ellis met with two deacons from Raleigh White. They expressed the intention of the Association to withdraw fellowship from the church if it did not repent of its chronic sin of racism against New Seasons.
The meeting did not go well, Wunch told The Index, for the future of the Association’s first African American congregation.
That led to last night’s called special meeting of the Mallary Executive Committee.
After a little longer than 90 minutes of soul-searching questioning, members voted to withdraw fellowship until the Raleigh White congregation repents, which will lead to immediate reconciliation.
Glass, pastor of New Seasons, said he and his congregation “felt the love tonight from our Association, from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, and the Southern Baptist Convention for supporting us in this difficult ordeal. These brothers not only talked the talk but walked the walk in standing up against racism.
“Our heart is deeply saddened but the Bible teaches that we are all one in the Body of Christ. This vote was about the need for ministry to continue in His name and not allowing the sin of racism or mistreating other people to continue unchallenged.
“… the path to reconciliation will follow true repentance”
“I am not happy for what happened but I am happy about the path to reconciliation that will follow true repentance. I thank God for planting His voice in the hearts of the leaders of our Association and for the churches taking a brave stand. For them, this was not about race but was about doing what is right in the eyes of God.”
Moderator Butch Knight, who had been in constant touch with Raleigh White leadership in recent days, said his contact with them late yesterday afternoon did not produce the hoped-for results.
“I implored them to acknowledge the wrong they had repeatedly committed and offered to have someone from the Association to walk down the path to reconciliation with them. I was informed that they would have their own meeting at 6 p.m., an hour prior to our meeting, and no one from their church would attend our meeting.”
Knight said the Association has made plans with churches to host New Seasons on a temporary basis, if they have no place to worship this coming Sunday.
“We will now wait and see.”
More than 2,000 miles away in San Diego, CA, pastor A.B. Vines and his congregation were also praying as last night’s meeting progressed. Vines was watching a live streaming of the gathering, praying for the historic vote that would stand for righteousness.
“As far as I know this is the first time the Southern Baptist Convention has ever disfellowshipped a church for racism. We have preached about it, have talked about it, passed resolutions about it but this is the first time we have actually taken action about it,” he noted.
The Albany congregation is one of 18 churches and church plants in the New Seasons nationwide network which Vines heads. Vines is currently president of the California Southern Baptist Convention and is a nominee for first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention at this June’s meeting in Dallas, TX.
He first became familiar with Albany in your younger days while stationed as a Marine at the military base in the South Georgia city. He noted that this is the third time he had tried to plant a church in Albany, and believes Marcus Glass is the answer to his prayers.
“Tonight is not a celebration”
“Tonight is not a celebration. But we know that Marcus is a great guy with a heart for reaching Albany for our Lord. I will continue to pray that Raleigh White will repent and that this will not be permanently etched on their tombstone.”
As for what the immediate future of New Seasons is, Glass is not sure.
“I am praying that the heart of Jesus will set in before next Sunday with the members of Raleigh White. Regardless, we will continue to show to them the love that God has shown to us. And unless we are told otherwise, on Sunday morning I’m driving to 2804 Phillips Drive in Albany and continue to share the facilities with them.
“If not, I know the churches of this Association are behind us and will help us grow our ministry elsewhere.”
NOTE: While New Seasons is connected to the network of New Seasons churches being planted by A.B. Vines in San Diego, CA, the Albany congregation is being sponsored by two local churches … Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany and Unity Baptist Church in Sylvester. Both are members of Mallary Baptist Association. Church planter Marcus Glass is serving through the church planting network of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.