Black, white and together: Bellevue, Central Area congregations now fast friends
Seattle Times staff reporter
Associate Pastor Wayne Perryman of Mt. Calvary Christian Center in Seattle's Central Area admits he was a bit skeptical when members of First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue proposed getting to know each other better a decade ago.
"When these kinds of things come up, blacks wonder: Are these people for really real?" Perryman said. "Particularly in the religious field, you hear white people saying: 'Oh brother, we love you.' You kind of think: 'If I need a job, a helping hand, you'd run 10 miles from me.' You just don't really believe that they're real because you don't believe they're genuine."
It was genuine. This year, the two churches are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their joint services for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, once again commemorating together the life and values of the slain civil-rights leader.
So many members have become close friends that now the King Day celebrations are "a testimony of relationships" that have developed over the years, Perryman said.
It's also a way to honor the values and religious beliefs of King, who believed "we need to cross racial and denominational barriers and become one nation under God," said the Rev. Reggie Witherspoon, pastor of Mt. Calvary.
Witherspoon and the Rev. Richard Leon, former pastor of First Presbyterian who retired in 2001, started the tradition. They met about 10 years ago and became fast friends.
Some members of the Bellevue church then decided they wanted to get to know those at Mt. Calvary better. They invited their counterparts to a multiday community-building workshop, with facilitators skilled at getting people to talk to each other on heartfelt and honest levels.
Leaders and lay members of both churches attended.
"We felt like racism in our country has been, and still is, a significant problem," said Rich Morse, 55, a member of First Presbyterian and one of those who initiated the workshops.
Church members talked through the polite stage, then began talking about race and their own lives, working toward candor and honesty.
"By the time the third day is over, you really see people for who they are," Perryman said.
After that, church members began doing things together fairly regularly.
They attended each other's services. Women came together for prayer and social events. Men's groups went on retreats together, including Promise Keepers gatherings.
When Mt. Calvary leaders realized their building didn't meet certain building codes, members of Bellevue Presbyterian volunteered their expertise and handiwork.
"They just came and worked hand in hand (with us)," Perryman said. "It's something that would've cost us thousands and thousands of dollars."
Recently, when one of the men from First Presbyterian working on tonight's King event became very ill, "that went through our church like it was one of our own," Perryman said.
"We got phone calls in the middle of the night about it. We called each other — phone call after phone call, we asked each other: What should we do? Should we go and visit him? We formed a prayer chain."
Individual members also made a point of getting to know each other. Morse got Perryman's phone number. Today, they consider themselves close friends.
When first starting to make contact, "I didn't have expectations of close friendships," Morse said. "I am delightfully surprised at how wonderfully close I feel to them, and feel accepted by them."
Perryman's mother passed away about two weeks ago. From the front of Mt. Calvary, where Perryman was delivering the eulogy, he looked down and saw "the whole crew" of his friends from First Presbyterian were there.
Perryman sometimes wonders how two churches that are "so opposite in doctrine and style" manage to be so close. Mt. Calvary, he says, is a "high-roller type church. Here we are one step up from rap music. And they have the wall-to-wall pipe organ, hymns of Martin Luther."
Yet, when the two get together, they always have a "great time together," he said.
Tonight in Bellevue, choirs from each church will sing together for the first time. Parishioners hope to share all they've learned about building relationships by inviting other churches in the Central Area and on the Eastside to the event..
Those celebrations have "led to great relationships between the two churches, between the people in the two churches," Perryman said. "I just really believe that it's going to last a lifetime."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.