It's 11 a.m. Sunday, the most segregated hour of the week in many churches.
But the Rev. Jean Robinson-Casey of University Baptist Church in College Park is on a mission to change that.
"Our goal is for this community to see that University Baptist Church believes in being one in Christ," Robinson-Casey said. "Most churches are either European American, African American or Hispanic. What we want is a diverse community that God called us to have through Jesus two millenniums ago."
At Robinson-Casey's urging, University Baptist, a predominantly white church, recently reached out to Zion Baptist Church, a 135-year-old African American congregation in the District, for a "service of racial reconciliation.'
At the Oct. 31 service, a multiracial choir performed a cultural mix of songs, and a pulpit dialogue was held on racial stereotypes. Robinson-Casey said she thought the service was a good start, something that she has a highly personal stake in seeing succeed.
Robinson-Casey's presence in the pulpit already has broken down some barriers. An African American, she is assistant pastor of the church. Her two brothers, Max and Randall Robinson, also were barrier breakers. Max Robinson was the first black network news anchor; Randall Robinson is director of TransAfrica, which played a key role in ending apartheid in South Africa.
But Robinson-Casey acknowledged that it would take more than multiracial services to bring some Baptists to the same sanctuary.
Weaving that multiracial quilt Sunday morning is much more than sharing pews, pulpits and choir stands. During their hour-long joint sermon and dialogue, University Baptist's senior pastor, the Rev. John P. Burns, and Robinson-Casey dealt with many stereotypes, prejudices and attitudes.
"My ancestors enslaved African Americans and brought them to this country," Burns preached. "I'm not sure that racial reconciliation will ever occur on a national basis. The question for us today: Can there be [racial] reconciliation in the church of Jesus Christ?"
Replied Robinson-Casey: "Racism is so pervasive. We bring it into the church. You hear us, but you listen psychologically in the European community. We built the African American church. Respect it, embrace it, celebrate it with us."
Burns: "I am a little confused. I thought you were telling me we were all the same. I thought the point was we were all the same."
Robinson-Casey: "We want you to respect our evolution. We don't have to necessarily assimilate to your culture. Still, we can make a beautiful [church] together."
Burns: "You say you want us to listen, but it seems that's all we do. Is it important for us to visit shame every time we meet?"
Robinson-Casey: "No, John, I don't want you to feel shame. Shame is counterproductive. What we want is amends. That's behavior change. Some African Americans feel when we come into your church you have a condescending attitude. You invite us into your pews but not into your leadership positions."
Burns: "Sometimes they talk about our style of worship as sedate and bland. Respect our tradition. Sometimes I think [black parishioners] just wait for me to say the wrong thing to call me a racist. I would much prefer that they come to me as a brother or a sister."
A different effort to join black and white churches occurred last weekend. The Prince George's Baptist Association, a multiracial group of 81 churches, rented a 3,000-seat Assembly of God church in Lanham for a conference on "One Family, One Faith Facing the 21st Century." But only about 75 people attended the two-day event.
"It doesn't make sense that in an organization made up of different races, we can't come together," said the Rev. James Dixon Jr., pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington. "It is a sad commentary."
Despite the small turnout, the event was multiracial--including "Praise Dancers" from Mount Calvary Baptist Church, in Lanham, and members of First Vietnamese Baptist Church, also in Lanham.
Organizers of the University-Zion church service and last weekend's Baptist meeting said music is another way to bring people together, and they tried to incorporate that into the recent meetings.
But that, too, has its limits.
"If you are going to understand both traditions, you have to immerse yourself in those traditions," said Mark McIntyre, University Baptist's choir director.
Judith Allen, music director at Zion, agreed: "Every culture has its own music and way of expressing it. This brings two cultures together."
Despite the difference in styles, choir members musically preached as they smiled and sang songs with a message of racial unity:
"Come, our sisters. Come, our brothers,
"Claim with joy your rightful place.
"Every pattern, every color,
"Joined in the bright quilt of faith."
Zion's pastor, the Rev. Emil Thomas, was out of town during the service, but Barbara Flowers, a Zion member who helped coordinate the event, said she was glad to see the frank discussion.
"We need to talk about race relations in the church," she said.
When the sermon ended at University Baptist, blacks and whites held hands and thanked God for the service. Then they adjourned to the church's fellowship hall for finger food.
That's when it again became clear that unification would not come quickly.
Although about 200 people shared pews, sang hymns together and applauded when the gospel of racial unity was preached, whites and blacks dined at separate tables during the reception.
When Dorothy Neidecker, 71, of Bowie, who is white, was asked whether racial reconciliation would ever come to the church, she said, "I think it is going to take a lot of prayer." Dorothy and Charlie Neidecker are members of University Baptist.
Ron Rogers, director of missions for the Prince George's Baptist Association, said that although blacks and whites should unify, their services don't always need to be the same. "Our worship styles are different. . . . Separation implies something bad, [but] it's different styles," he said.
As Rogers talked, the Rev. Bill Causey, former executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, the umbrella group of the mostly white Southern Baptists in the state, chimed in. "Originally, whites and blacks worshiped together, but it wasn't fair. So blacks wanted to be on their own. Now we are taking a new look and doing things together."
As the white ministers talked, a group of black teenage girls from Calvary Baptist listened from a distance. Amber Lewis, 16, of Mitchellville, said she doesn't understand why blacks and whites don't worship together. "It should have been done a long time ago," she said.
Jim Slicer, an accountant from Northern Virginia and a member of McLean Bible Church, said separation of the races on Sunday often has nothing to do with race. "Most people like to associate with people they are most comfortable with," he said.
Burns said the program at University Baptist was a good beginning. "We have always been able to be good to one another in the church. The real test of our commitment comes when we leave the church."
CAPTION: Melanie Golloway, front, of Hyattsville, and Elizabeth Gilead, of Silver Spring, sing at the service held to promote racial reconciliation.
CAPTION: Judith Allen, music director at Zion Baptist Church, directs the combined choir of the two churches. "Every culture has its own music and way of expressing it. This brings two cultures together," she says.