WESTMINSTER — Rolling across racial barriers, children from two diverse congregations shared laughs and lunch at a joint skating party on Saturday.
Kicking off the "Pairing and Caring" program between the Church of the Brethren and the Union Street United Methodist Church here, the party also marked the beginning of the congregations' three-year commitment to understand each other better.
"This is an opportunity to expand our vision of one another," said the Rev. Joan Carter, pastor of Union Street. "We come together with our differences and celebrate them."
Members of the mostly-whiteChurch of the Brethren were paired with the mostly-black Union Street church last fall when they contacted Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned -- the interfaith group which sponsors "Pairing" -- about projects to work for peace.
"We met with the executive director (John Springer) who went to Western Maryland College with me," said Gary Honeman, who chairs the "Pairing and Caring" program at the Church of the Brethren. "He knew Joan Carter, and so when our peace committee approached (CALC) about becoming a paired church, they recommended Union Street."
The statewide program was born in Baltimore two years ago in an attempt to heal racial tensions in the neighborhood of Hampden, Springer said. The success in Hampden led organizers to expand the project statewide, with a goal of getting 100 racially-different churches to work together by December 1992.
"People need positive things to do rather than focusing on the negative," he said. "We need to be aware of tension and disagreement when it exists, but we need togo on to do something positive."
Each of the 42 congregations involved is matched with another church in the program that shares the same special interests.
"There are other factors (besides race involved in pairing)," said Springer. "It depends on the specific characteristics and desires of particular churches."
For example, St. Joseph's Roman Catholic in Sykesville -- the only other Carroll church involved -- was paired with St. Edward's Roman Catholic in Baltimore.
"St. Joseph's was interested in being paired with an urban congregation to not only work across racial lines, but reach out across the culture of city and suburban churches," he said.
The Westminster churches are also a good combination because they are working across barriers in their own community, he said.
"Westminster has its own share of racial tensions, and the community needs to keep finding ways to keep people talking," Springer said.
Paired churches are encouraged to fulfil three objectives for racial harmony:
* Christian fellowship with each other.
* Community service.
* International service projects.
But the program also allows church members to learn about their counterparts' culture in a relaxed atmosphere, saidCarter.
"Sunday morning is probably one of the most segregated times we have," she said.
While blacks and whites work with one another and their children may go to the same school, they normally don'tlive in the same neighborhoods, Carter said.
"We get to know one another by meeting at our church and doing our activities and meetingat their church and doing their activities," she said.
Activitiesplanned for this year include a prayer breakfast with the men's groups of each congregation on April 6 and a joint Sunday afternoon service in the fall.
In addition, members of each congregation are encouraged to attend fund-raisers supporting the other church.
"That'swhat church is all about," she said. "Being inclusive and not exclusive."