Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Brotherhood A Friendship Bonds 2 Communities

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Brotherhood A Friendship Bonds 2 Communities

Article excerpt

It is a time of jubilant beginnings, and a time of heart-rending separation for the congregations of two Atlantic Beach churches brought together by the deep bond of friendship between the Rev. Jim Halstead and Deacon James Stackhouse.

Tomorrow, Halstead will give his last sermon as pastor of Sunrise Community Church in Atlantic Beach. Today he marks the beginning of Helping Hands Ministry's operation from its new site as guest speaker at the dedication ceremony for New Friendship Missionary Baptist Church's community outreach project.

It is because of the friendship Halstead developed with Stackhouse, founder of Helping Hands, that Helping Hands is the thriving program it is today.

And it is because of that friendship that two years ago the almost exclusively white membership of Sunrise Community Church and the almost exclusively black membership of New Friendship Missionary Baptist Church began praying together, holding social gatherings together, and dedicating themselves to working together to help the low-income neighborhood that surrounds the two churches.

As Halstead prepares to leave for a new calling in Fort Wayne, Ind., members of the two congregations say they feel a terrible sense of loss. But they are firm in their trust in God's power to keep the momentum going that has bonded the two church communities together.

It all began in October of 1996 with the Promise Keepers conference in Jacksonville. Halstead said he heard the challenge to reach out and connect with someone of another race and he took that challenge not just for himself, but for his congregation.

"I made a commitment to find a sister church and to help and serve them," Halstead said.

Soon after that, he saw a photograph of Stackhouse in Shorelines, and an article about his church's Helping Hands Ministry project. He went to meet Stackhouse.

It is a friendship graced by God, Stackhouse said. How else to explain that two such different men should come together and form such a deep bond?

"There were three barriers. I'm black and he's white. He's a minister and I'm a layman. We're from different denominations. But we've prayed together every week now for almost two years," Stackhouse said.

The power of their friendship has had impact beyond the two congregations. Their commitment to serve their community has spread throughout the Beaches church community. And their friendship across racial barriers provided inspiration for an article in a national magazine, Beacon, published by the Evangelical Free Church of America last October.

A photograph of the two men, walking barefoot along the shoreline of Atlantic Beach, is on the cover of the issue devoted to the topic of racial reconciliation.

Fred Ruggles, who is on the search committee for a new minister, says Halstead's decision to answer the call to a new church leaves a big hole to fill in leading the Sunrise congregation. …

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