A historically black church and a predominantly white church in Washington, D.C., will share communion and lead a prayer walk at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on Aug. 12 — the one-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va. The goal of the event is to send a counter-message to the Unite the Right 2 rally that is scheduled to take place in D.C. on the same day.
The event, called United By Love, will bring together Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C. and was organized by New Baptist Covenant – an organization founded by Jimmy Carter and led by Baptist leaders to help heal racial divides in the U.S.
Hannah McMahan, executive director of New Baptist Covenant, organized the two churches — who have a complicated history of racial divide dating back to the 1800s — recognizing the power of these specific churches uniting together against hate.
“[These churches] are saying yes, our history has some of the story and the narrative that white supremacists would tell and advocate, but what we believe in is the Kin-dom of god and beloved community and are willing to do the work to prove that,” McMahan said.
Nineteenth Street Baptist Church came out of First Baptist Church. Slaves in the 1800s worshiped with white congregants in First Baptist Church. But in 1833, amid racial tensions and conflicts around division and use of the property, white members of First Baptist left the original location and sold the original site to the black members, according to Rev. Dr. Darryl Roberts, the senior pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church.
In 1839, the black congregants created the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church — the city’s first and oldest Baptist congregation.
While the two churches are in conversation about what reconciliation, healing, and renewed partnership look like for both congregations, uniting together on Aug. 12 seemed to be a natural step toward unity.
“This is a great time for two churches that have been impacted by racial division to come together through the symbols of prayer, communion, focus on love and justice rather than racial division and hatred,” Roberts said.
The Martin Luther King Jr. monument is two-and-a half miles from Lafayette Park, where the Unite the Right rally is scheduled to take place. Leaders from both congregations said they will share communion with people from their congregations as well as others around the monument who want to participate.
“The alt-right is using the word ‘unite’ and we thought ‘let’s transform that’ — that’s the heart of what we’re trying to do,” said Julie Pennington-Russell, senior pastor at First Baptist Church.
Other groups, like Black Lives Matter, United Methodists, Washington Hebrew Congregation, and others, are organizing counter protests, vigils, and teach-ins around the city the weekend of the Unite the Right rally.
See a full list here.