Rabbi Judy Schindler with Co-Pastor Rhonda Kinsey

A Greater Fire

By Rabbi Judy Schindler

Two weeks ago, Charlotte’s Briar Creek Road Baptist Church was a victim of arson. It is less than three and half miles from my home. Their children’s choir sang at our Beth El MLK service three years ago and my kids were close friends with the kids of their former minister, Dennis Hall. I was moved to worship with them the first Sunday after the fire. 

In Charlotte, where the painful past of the Jim Crow South is still felt and racial mistrust can be high, I feel a religious mandate to “love the stranger” and to make that stranger into a neighbor and friend.  With the freedom of Sundays without our own worship services, I also choose to help break down the racial barriers in our churches, fighting the maxim that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in our community of some 700 houses of worship.

Briar Creek Road Baptist Church is small.  When I visited, there were about three dozen church members and a dozen visitors. I was moved by the optimism and faith of Senior Pastor Mannix Kinsey, Co-Pastor Rhonda Kinsey, and their entire congregation. With dance, song, preaching and prayer, they offered gratitude. Here were some of their messages:

  • Our children’s building was set aflame but thank God no human life was lost.
  • An arsonist set a fire last Wednesday but we will set a greater fire of spirit in our sanctuary.
  • We don’t need lights or power to worship God.
  • We are grateful for so many churches that are ready to help.
  • Tragedy will not stop us from being a unifying force.
  • We don’t have time to worry about whomever, whatever, or however the fire was set.

While Briar Creek Road Baptist Church does not have time to worry about whomever, whatever, or however the fire was set, we, as the Reform Movement, do have that time. We should worry not only about this fire but about the six other recent fires at African American churches in the South, including three confirmed arsons. While the fire in the church in Greeleyville, SC was likely set off by lightning, it nonetheless awakened memories of their 1995 fire, started by two members of the Ku Klux Klan. When the sanctity of even one church in our country is shattered by racism and hatred, it shatters the sanctity and sanctuary of all of our houses of worship.  How much more so should seven fires move us to action?

Praying with our African American brothers and sisters is a start. This summer’s weekly conversations for healing and change coordinated by Mecklenburg Ministries (Charlotte’s interfaith organization) are a next step.  But, we need to do more. As a religious movement we need to work towards achieving racial justice on every level: from supporting national, state and local legislation protecting civil liberties to working together in congregational partnerships with the African American community.

For decades, Temple Beth El has taken part in a popular Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon Exchange with African American churches. For several years, the broader Charlotte community embraced that vision and dozens of congregations engaged in an MLK sermon exchanges.  For the coming year, we hope to see more frequent youth and parent exchanges among Charlotte houses of worship across lines of difference. We are starting with our Beth El youth and pursuing opportunities for youth exchanges in areas of worship and social action.

My prayer is that in the coming year, as a movement, we can build a greater fire for racial understanding and justice that will create light, warmth, and safe sanctuaries for all.

Rabbi Judy Schindler

Rabbi Judith Schindler is Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El in Charlotte. She is on the Interfaith Advisory Council of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, leads the Education Equity group for the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, is past Co-Chair of the Clergy Advisory Board of Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith organization, and served on the Board of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition for Housing.  She serves on the President’s Rabbinic Council of the Hebrew Union College and is a past Co-Chair of the Women’s Rabbinic Network.

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  1. Confederate Flag Flies No More Over South Carolina Capitol | Fresh Updates from RACFresh Updates from RAC - July 13, 2015

    […] about the fires that have broken out in churches across the South. See our full statement here and read a reflection from Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El in Charlotte, North Carolina. For more information about the RAC’s work on civil rights and racial justice work, check out our […]

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