Several churches in Cumming changed up their services this past weekend as pastors and other worshippers didn’t feel it was right to continue on as normal when black communities in the nation are still reeling after the death of George Floyd.
Instead of his regular Sunday service, Todd Cox, the lead pastor at StonePoint Church, led a conversation about race and the Black Lives Matter movement with black leaders from Holy Trinity Christian Church, in Alpharetta, this past Sunday.
“When everything happened with Ahmaud Arbery and then with George Floyd, there was just no way I could sit back and be silent,” Cox said.
Before the service on Sunday, Cox was talking with Mike Adams, the senior pastor at Holy Trinity, when he suddenly asked him to come over to StonePoint for the Sunday service to sit down and share his experiences and have a “difficult conversation” that the community needed to hear.
Cox also invited Marc Griffin and Darnell Adams, both from Holy Trinity, to talk along with them, and the conversation was live streamed on the church’s Facebook page and website as the church is still preparing to open back up to the public in two weeks.
During the service, Cox and the others spoke on topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement and what it means to them, the importance of people putting their political differences aside when it comes to issues of inequality, and the protests and riots broadcast across America.
The main message that Cox wanted to get across to the members of his church and his community is that it’s important to take a step back, listen and to try to understand situations from a different perspective.
“Sometimes we think we are, and we don’t understand what we don’t understand,” Cox said.
Cox explained that when there is ignorance within a community and one group doesn't understand another, it can lead to assumptions and other issues, but he said many at the church were happy to hear the discussion. He said the conversation led some at the church to assess their own thoughts and feelings in a different light.
“It started a good conversation,” he said.
While Cox decided to have this conversation in light of recent events, it’s not the first time the church has addressed racial inequality. Two years ago, he along with other Georgia pastors connected with an organization called One Race, and they all marched to the top of Stone Mountain — where the largest confederate monument in America still stands — to link arms and “collectively denounce racism.”
That event two years ago started the conversation around race at StonePoint, and Cox said that he plans to continue these conversations anytime that people in the community feel they need to have their voices heard.
Senior Pastor Chris Emmitt of Mountain Lake Church had a similar conversation with friends and church leaders from Browns Bridge Church that was broadcast live to their own Facebook page.
Worship Pastor Shawn Walden and his wife, Tameka Walden, shared the stage with Emmitt. Gerald Fadayomi, who leads high school ministry at Browns Bridge Church, and his wife Kiley joined into the conversation digitally, with their faces shown on a screen on stage.
The couples, one black and one inter-racial, talked about what they are feeling right now and what they see that people in their communities are feeling right now.
Fadayomi explained that when he watched as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor’s stories surfaced, he could not help but think about his own friends and his two brothers.
“Their stories are not individual cases,” Fadayomi said. “When I see their story, I see my family. I see my friends …. It makes me desperate for a better future for our kids.”
Fadayomi’s wife is currently pregnant with twin girls, and the news has worried them for their children who have not been born yet.
Instead of streaming a service this past Sunday, Browns Bridge Church leader Andy Stanley also sent a unique message out to churchgoers.
“Today, we’ve hit pause on our regular format in light of the tragic events that have engulfed our nation,” Stanley said on the broadcast.
While many are seeking out these conversations with their communities, other churches in Forsyth County are going as far as to actively involve themselves and their members in creating change.
John Hutchinson of Cumming First United Methodist Church said that members of his church staff attended a prayer vigil in Atlanta in the past week to remember the black lives lost in recent months, and the church will be holding its own 24-hour prayer vigil this upcoming Wednesday, June 10.
Staff members at CFUMC also attended the protest in downtown Cumming on Saturday, June 6, and they are in the middle of creating a church and race study class for members of their congregation.
Leaders at Cross Church, in South Forsyth, have also been involved in trying to create change in Forsyth County and in Georgia, and they announced over the weekend that they will be attending the March on Atlanta on Friday, June 19.
While the services held in Forsyth County this past weekend may have been difficult for some members and outside of what locals usually experience, Emmitt and Cox both said it is important to take the time to stop and listen.
“This is a moment to pause in the pain,” Emmitt said. “The pain of the black community and the pain of the families directly impacted.”