Two Augusta churches joined together Monday night in a show of Christian fellowship extending past racial lines to celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.
More than 200 parishioners from Elim Baptist Church and the Church of the Good Shepherd shared food and joined in prayer and song at a covered-dish supper held in the fellowship hall of the latter church on Walton Way.
The event was part of an ongoing relationship forged between the two churches, according to the Revs. Robert Fain of Good Shepherd and Charles Smith of Elim.
"This particular event is to show the common cause of both churches ..." the Rev. Smith said.
"And what we have in common is that we're all Christians," the Rev. Fain added.
The King remembrance was one of the events planned by an interchurch council for the entire year. Each year the churches share Thanksgiving dinner -- which was the catalyst for the relationship that started in 1991.
Church members began a year ago holding meetings once a week to discuss racial problems in Augusta. Topics such as the Alfaigo Davis shooting were discussed and helped increase understanding for members of both churches, said Faye Smith of Elim Baptist.
Mr. Davis, 29, was shot and killed by two Richmond County sheriff's deputies during a traffic stop last February. The shooting caused racial tension in the community. The officers have since been exonerated of all charges.
"We talked about how we can improve relationships in terms of race. It really helped the dialogue," Ms. Smith said.
"I think what goes on between both churches is more a natural relationship, not a political one," said Audrey Wood, a lifelong member of Elim Baptist Church.
Mrs. Wood said the interaction between the churches has increased her connection to the community. For example, on her morning walks at the Academy of Richmond County High School track, she now sees peo-
ple she's met through the church affiliation.
"We use the same facilities in the community, and if we just stopped and looked at each other we'd find someone we know. We're a community of people," Mrs. Wood said.
Anna Doris, who has attended Good Shepherd for two years, described the effort as an ongoing project -- not just a one-day event -- to try to make things better in the community.
"We're not politically motivated or economically motivated. Neither church is profiting more than the other. We're both sharing in the benefit, which is improved race relations and Christian fellowship," she said.
Black and white members of both congregations sat together at tables and feasted on homemade casseroles, fried chicken and a huge selection of desserts.
After dinner, the Elim Baptist Church choir sang hymns for the audience.
Dr. James E. Carter III, retired associate dean of student affairs and director of minority student affairs at the Medical College of Georgia, was featured speaker.
Dr. Carter spoke of the legacy of Dr. King and how the new diversity of the American population demands acceptance and communication.
He said the relationship between the two churches was a good example of a way to keep the lines of communication open within the community.
"I like to think of it as a sociological phenomenon that keeps good race relationships going," Dr. Carter said.
Both the Rev. Fain and the Rev. Smith said they felt the relationship is part of the church's obligation to serve the community.
"We have discovered that we have more in common as Christians than we do with our own races," the Rev. Smith said.
"People are generally nice to each other in culture. We want to get past the politeness and into relationships," the Rev. Fain said.
Margaret Weston can be reached at (706) 823-3217 or mweston@augusta