Pastor gets a bit bruised in effort to change church Dream of racially united congregation is fleeting


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Rev. Percy Reeves of Plaza United Methodist Church is trying not to buckle under the cross.

It isn't easy when you feel called to lead a congregation, as he puts it, from death to resurrection. It isn't easy when the church has turned from white to black and asked two senior citizens' programs to leave.

Reeves loves the church in general and his northeast Charlotte, N.C., church in particular. But he can't hide the anguish in his voice. Doing God's work - what he believes God would have him do even if others disagree - is wrenching.

"That's my cross," says Reeves, 37. "The weight is heavy."

Reeves has faced a continuing storm since arriving at Plaza in 1994 - a black pastor appointed to a white congregation. United Methodist leaders hoped he could keep white members while attracting blacks new to the area around The Plaza and Eastway Drive.

The dream of building a racially united church didn't last long. About 130 whites and a few blacks worshiped at Plaza when Reeves arrived.

Today, 175 blacks and very few whites worship there.

Reeves had hoped to reach out to people regardless of their color, but he refused to water down his emotional preaching and worship style. "To be a genuinely integrated church," he told me last year, "I had to be allowed to be authentically me."

Plaza's transformation has embittered some. Ben Lewis is among 30 whites who left. The Plaza crowd still meets monthly to eat and talk. "Plaza's nothing like it used to be," he said. "You won't find any white people there anymore."

Having begun rebuilding a church that is drawing younger people now, Reeves wants to offer more children's programs. To do that, Plaza has asked two ministries that serve the elderly to leave. Mecklenburg's senior nutrition program will move to Grace Baptist, nearby on The Plaza. Plaza Adult Living Services, which provides a meal and day care to 30 seniors, is looking for a home. Head Start will take its place.

PALS Executive Director Robin Kaercher wrote in the ministry's "Hot News" newsletter that Reeves' goals and ambitions "are not in keeping with the PALS philosophy of caring for the sick and poor elderly of this community."

Reeves said he isn't trying to rid Plaza of any hint of its white past. Most of the PALS staff and clients are black. It's a matter of which vulnerable group to serve - the young or the old. Plaza chooses to devote its limited space and resources to kids.

"Those are my grandparents there," he said, looking toward the church wing where PALS clients eat and watch TV. "But the ones coming up are my children."

Reeves now talks about having to make no-win decisions, having to pray more. He realizes "you can't be OK to everybody."

Reeves says he will continue building the kind of church that he believes will best serve God and the neighborhood. Only now, he knows it's not likely to win him many friends.

"I'm a nice guy," he said. "I'm not scary to anybody or anything like that. But I do have convictions. I believe God has called me here to make decisions."

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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