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Group bringing IW pastors together

A new group is working to unite Isle of Wight pastors and churches for conversations on racial equity.

William McCarty said he was moved to action in response to “all the racial tensions that are going on across America and seeing that harsh reality that’s in our country. As a church leader, as an elected community leader, as somebody that hears things on a regular basis, I wanted to put something together. As a community we might not be able to change the whole country, but what if we started with where we are?”

As pastor of Healing Waters Worship Center in Carrollton, McCarty, who also represents the county’s Newport District on the Board of Supervisors but is organizing the group in his personal capacity, said he is often asked if he leads a Black church or a white church.

“My answer to it is always ‘Yes, we are’ because we have a mix of all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities, which is what I believe it should be,” he said. “We’re the human race, and our diversity is what makes us stronger.”

The group, Parishes Affirming Racial Equity — or PARE — wants to focus on several initiatives. The first, bringing Iocal faith leaders together for discussion and dialogue, is ongoing. Other initiatives include setting a date where members of all area churches can gather for a unified time of prayer and worship. The group also wants to continue to bring congregations together intentionally and possibly create a local pastors’ fellowship.

“Sunday morning is the most segregated time in our community — really in the country — is when people go to church,” McCarty said. “We’ve got to have the conversation about what we see, how we deal with it and all the various different stereotypes that people in society” unknowingly or deliberately apply to each other.

Some of the feedback has been negative, but McCarty is undeterred.

“A couple of folks in the community have said I was a white person, so why was I trying to lead something for racial equity? That question alone shows that we have a problem,” McCarty said.

McCarty said he sees the church as all Christ followers — not just a particular congregation, denomination or a building. Kim Shivers, pastor at Solomon’s Temple Church in Smithfield, echoed that sentiment.

“When the enemy sees that you’re working together, that you’re unified, you have more strength,” Shivers said. “When the enemy sees that you have strength like that, they can’t come up and tear you apart in your community and in your faith. They can’t tear you apart like they can if you are already separated.”

Shivers, who also owns Shivers Funeral Chapel, said he supports any effort that can bring more peace and cohesiveness to the community. McCarty used a car metaphor to explain his approach to talking about racial equity and facilitating reconciliation. He said reconciliation and communication must be intentional.

“You cannot move forward in your vehicle while looking in your rearview mirror. If all you’re doing is looking in the rearview mirror, you’re going to end up running over people,” McCarty said. “So we have to get the balance back to glancing in the rearview mirror so that we don’t repeat things but not driving from the perspective of our rearview mirror.”

As pastors, he continued, “I want us to throw the hard questions on the table, such as what are things in each racial perspective that causes stereotypes to exist in our communities,” said McCarty.

An invitation will be extended to the pastor or a representative of every church in the county to an upcoming meeting on a date to be determined, and McCarty said he’d tentatively like to have an all-church gathering in October, possibly at the fairgrounds.

Shivers, who is Black, said he’s optimistic about the group’s efforts. He sees everyone coming together with empathetic, open minds for the greater good.

“It’s not about denomination; it’s not about affiliation,” Shivers said. “It’s about God getting glory in the end and saying even though the enemy tried to tear us apart — tear the world apart — God’s power brings us closer together through it all.”