Monday, February 25, 2013

Celebrating 25 Years of Integration

Great story from Channel 8! Thanks to those who were interviewed. Click here for the source page and video

By: Caroline Tucker

Rochester's oldest church still operating is looking forward...and is celebrating a major milestone. 25 years ago the church of St. Luke and St. Simon of Cyrene merged and integrated its congregation. It was a move that challenged perceptions and crossed barriers.

The church of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene is known as "Two Saints" in downtown Rochester. For the last month, the church has celebrated its history of integration that continues to break the divide.

The doors are always open at "Two Saints."

"I walked in and it was a complete reminder of the parish I grew up in, in terms of the diversity, in terms of style of music," said Merle Welsh.

Race does not divide here.

"It's a stronger congregation," says Francine Conwell. "It's a place where people are feeling comfortable.  We are feeling welcoming."

The experiment started 25 years ago. Attendance was falling at the historically white St. Luke's Episcopal Church and at St. Simon of Cyrene - the city's African American Episcopal Church. So they merged.

"When the merger was going to take place I was very much opposed to it because we were the only African American Episcopalian Church in the city," said Conwell.

Change was not easy on either side.

"I think it was more prejudice than anything else," said Adrienne Simpkins.

It was in January of 1988 when the two churches combined for their first service, the St. Simon of Cyrene Congregation left this building at that point.

Some left....but 60 percent of the current congregation joined after the merger.

"I hope this can be a place where reconciliation can happen, where truth can be told beyond the lines that divide us"

"Two Saints" is now model in Rochester.

"The way we have grown together is really something to see and something to admire," said Jean Kenney.

A celebration of bridging barriers then and now.

"This is that heavenly vision, this is to use the language of Martin Luther King, that beloved community... where all people have a seat at what my ancestors used to call the welcome table."

The congregation at Two Saints hopes that over the next 25 years - it can be part of the solution to some of the city's social problems - like poverty and education. Reverend Michael Hopkins says many issues stem from races and cultures not being able to talk to one another.

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