by: Melia Lewis Mason
Recently, an interesting video caught my attention on social media. Filmed in a popular restaurant chain, it was bustling with business—every table was taken. At one of the tables, where only men were seated, each one began to randomly sing the harmonies of a well-known gospel song. Though it looked like it was only their performance, people—one by one—all over the dining area—stood up and joined the worship. The place had been ‘flash mobbed!’ While I knew the song well, and I’m accustomed to seeing Facebook flash-mob attempts in lots of different contexts; there was one thing that truly stood out. There were all different races of people participating in this gospel-genre of praise! I was immediately reminded that this is how heaven will be. I shared the video, my thought, and Revelations 7:9 which tells us that every tribe of every nation will praise and honor God on high. There is ethnicity in heaven.
It is no coincidence that this clip has now been viewed 13.5 million times. That’s right—to say it went viral, would be an understatement. Understanding that it’s captivated others, like me, gives a great illustration of the purpose of the CityChurch Network initiative, Race Under Grace. It is very simple. When people, especially those who live in America, see fellow believers uninhibited by the traditional boundaries of race; doing ‘life’ naturally and authentically, and with kingdom purpose; well people just seem to lean in! As Jesus stated in John 17:23, ‘Then the world is able to know that God sent His Son, and He has loved those in this world, as He loves His Son.’
Since beginning in fall of 2016, the sessions of Race Under Grace were created to help churches, around the state, to understand our responsibility to the prayer that Jesus so fervently prayed on the eve of His death. To date, over 100 individuals have participated in Race Under Grace from churches and Christian-based businesses in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Maumelle, Conway, and northwest Arkansas. A Race Under Grace experience includes scriptural application; personally presented testimonies; informative videos—both historical and contemporary; and most importantly, dedicated space for organic, topical conversations. The attendees share these experiences in purposely diverse groups—all while the leaders of Race Under Grace rely on the Holy Spirit to establish the oneness of the gospel.
With only momentum in mind, the CityChurch leadership team desires that other churches and Christian entities will host Race Under Grace forums for their members and staff around our state, and nationally, as well. The Race Under Grace team is willing to meet with a team leader from each organization to coordinate the best itinerary of sessions. This can look different each time, depending on timeframes and the number of participants. Race Under Grace is best hosted with diversity in mind. In many instances, division persists because there is no mutuality or acceptable places for people of different ethnicities to discuss issues of race. Race Under Grace challenges this norm by establishing a safe place where the participants can freely express themselves, respectfully. The Race Under Grace team can lead these sessions and supply table leaders or train a potential church or business staff to lead their own sessions. There is a written work booklet given to each participant, as well. With only a few weeks’ notice, a Race Under Grace event can be planned, hosted, and follow-up strategies can be established.
It has been often noted that Martin Luther King made the observation that it was appalling that ‘the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning.’ That was in April of 1960, as Dr. King eloquently spoke on an episode of Meet the Press. Though many things have improved since that Friday evening when Dr. King was interviewed, we know that, unfortunately, many churches exist in the same context that they did on that very day.
It is only ironic that in April of this year—some sixty years later, many of those who are part of the CityChurch Network, and those who’ve been leaders of Race Under Grace, traveled to Memphis, TN for MLK 50, the national commemoration and conference honoring the life of Dr. King on the anniversary of his untimely death. Sitting in the convention hall over the two days I was able to attend the conference, I found myself so welled up with emotion, at times, it felt as if I might detonate with gratitude for being blessed enough to be present at this intersection of remembrance and expectation. You see, I’d written my first play in the spring of 1985. I was an eleven year old, so stunned that Dr. King was stabbed and had lived, that I wrote about it. I didn’t know that the play would later be performed in two presentations–one for the school and another, later that evening, for parents. This is how long I’ve felt indebted to Dr. King.
One of the greatest observations that I can make is how profoundly diversity had made its way into that place. Though Dr. King’s Meet the Press moment still rings true, for just a moment over those two days, had he lived, he might have been able to understand the gravity of whom he had dared to be in this world. There were young and old, married and single, women and men, preachers and teachers, in all shapes and sizes—and most of all—a kaleidoscope of every kind of people who were here for King and kingdom purpose. I can remember being completely impacted that I might not live to see the next, but somehow, I had been blessed to witness this moment in history.
And so, in some figurative capacity in my head, I bottled this precious essence of MLK50, and I allowed it to bestow upon me the affirmation that is priceless in the work of oneness. For as long as I can remember the issues of difference have been with me. I know the anger and the righteous indignation borne out of a hostile look. I understand how my life standards will never be enough to make me fully accepted, in some places. But, these moments remind me of my Savior who went to the cross and took on all the iniquity of the world—including race—that I might know, instead, an eternal acceptance. I hold fast to the redemptive opportunities that are given to me as I participate in leading Race Under Grace and working with the CityChurch Network. And, though the world suffers much weight of hard afflictions, my steps are ordered and made lighter because I’m sure that, like Dr. King, I know that what I’m doing for Christ? It will last.
Melia Lewis Mason, a former English major and Little Rock native, is a writer and on staff of Fellowship North Church, where she coordinates Adult Ministry on the team of Pastor Harold Nash, and her husband is one of the worship leaders. A former publications editor, Melia now is also a Communications and Content Coordinator for Race Under Grace, and she serves on the Citychurch Network of Arkansas Leadership Team. She resides in Maumelle, AR with her husband, Russell, and three children, Joshua, 17, Aijilán, 14, and Jonathan, 10. They recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.