Black, white churches merge in Florence
FLORENCE, S.C. – On July 17, the District Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene signed off on a merger of A New Start International Church of the Nazarene and Family Life Church of the Nazarene.
The combined church will be called Impact Church of the Nazarene.
“We made it official during that time,” said Michael McCants, who will lead the new church. “We had been worshiping together for about two months. Prior to the two months, we had been fellowshipping together on special occasions together. We also shared the same building for three years.”
He said his wife, Hope, would be a co-leader of the church, which is at 2812 W. Palmetto St.
The merger began when the pastor of Family Life resigned and McCants, who was already the pastor of A New Start, was asked to become the pastor of Family Life.
“When I began to look at the dynamics of both churches, each church was like a puzzle piece that the other one needed to complete the puzzle,” McCants said. “And so we brought the conversation up. It took us about six months through conversation and organizing before we made a final decision to put the puzzle together.”
A New Start was a predominantly African-American church. It brought a youthful vigor, an evangelistic style and a growing congregation. Family Life, a predominantly white church, brought more than 50 years of tradition, a more stable congregation and stronger leadership.
Each of the old churches’ boards unanimously agreed to the merger after McCants presented the case to them. The next step was to receive approval from both congregations. Both congregations unanimously agreed to the merger.
After the decision to merge was made, Impact needed to be organized in a way that would satisfy both congregations. Also, Impact needed a mission statement and a leadership style for both congregations.
As the church was being organized, the merger would need the approval of the district assembly.
“We took our decision before our district, which is in Columbia,” McCants said. “Our district board, the district superintendent presented the case to them. They unanimously said, ‘Yes.’ Now mind you, although our denomination is the world in ethnic group and race, our district board is predominantly white. And so they literally turned over property and ministry to a black church with no problem.”
McCants added that one member of the district board exclaimed, “Yes, we were waiting on this.”
“When the churches came together from a racial standpoint, no [there weren’t any issues],” McCants said. “Our denomination represents the whole world. So our church is accustomed to different ethnic groups and different colors together. The only conflict that we may have had was trying to decipher the balance between both churches.”
Hope said the transition has been smooth.
“It happened very easily,” she said. “Everything just kind of slid into place. You really saw God manifest himself through both sets of people. You saw people having to iron out differences.”
McCants added that his grandfather, the pastor of the first black Nazarene church in Florence, had worked with the pastor of the first white Nazarene church during the era of the Civil Rights movement.
“Coming together has always been in the DNA perspective,” McCants said.
Sonya Boatwright, who was church secretary of A New Start, added that she was primarily focused on recruiting youth to the church.
“I think it’s great,” Boatwright said. “I think it’s great for all cultures. I think that having a multiculture church is probably going to be the way that everybody is going to need to go.”
Niveyah Brown, one of the youth in the new church, added that she thought it was good to have more youth and more people in the church. She also said that new church helped her open up and become more social.
Bonnie Phillips was board secretary for Family Life for several years.
“I felt like God was asking us to do this,” Phillips said. “It was something that we had been praying for a number of years.”
Already, McCants said, the size of the congregation has increased. Old members of both congregations have returned to the church. He said the merger has created an excitement and a revival of interest in the church. The goal, he added, was to “plug in” to what God is doing. Currently, the church has a congregation of approximately 80 people.