One North Carolina pastor got into a little hot water recently when she, in an email to church members, called for white greeters only to man the doors at the multi-racial Freedom House Church in Charlotte. UPI reported Sept. 3 that executive pastor of operations, Makeda Pennycooke, wanted to impress upon the congregation that “first impressions matter” and that “only white people” should stand as greeters at the church’s doors in order to “represent us the best.”
What the pastor was attempting to do was increase the membership of her church. And there is nothing wrong with that, on the face of it. Apparently she wanted to concentrate on drawing more white members into the racially diverse congregation. Again, nothing wrong with that.
The problem and the subsequent controversy arose from the way in which the pastor decided that the increase would be best achieved. And in the way she broached the idea to church members.
In an email sent out to church members (obtained by WBTV in Charlotte), Pennycooke wrote: “We anticipate having an increase in the number of people visiting and attending Freedom House over the next few weeks.”
The pastor’s poorly written recruiting entreaty then goes on to push for white greeters only…
“We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line,” she continued in the email. “So we would like to ask that only white people be on the front doors.”
Pennycooke then wrote she understands that her request is a “sensitive situation,” WBTV noted. She followed up with: “We would rather have less greeters on the front door if it means that the few that we have will represent us the best.”
Carmen Thomas, a parishioner at Freedom House Church for two years, sent the email to WBTV. She told the news station that she was at first “floored” by the pastor’s words, calling the email a “jaw dropper.”
She said, “You can put a white face all over the front door. But when you come through those doors, you’re going to see African Americans, you’re gonna see Asians. You’re going to see people of color.”
She also said that she knew exactly what Pennycooke was saying by requesting white greeters only at the church’s doors. “Too black.” Then she added, “It wasn’t a conclusion that I drew. It was something I read.”
Pennycooke and the church sent out an apology email less than 24 hours after the “only white people”greeters email but the damage was done. The pastor admitted that it had been a mistake to over-emphasize any specific group in the email. The pastors at Freedom House Church have since met with church members and staff to assure them of their commitment to diversity and that nothing like the email ever happens again.
Attempting to fill pews and trying to increase membership at churches is practiced by pastors and church elders throughout the world. And generally speaking, most think nothing of invitations and recruitment efforts on the part of churches. However, recruiting methods like those employed by Pastor Makeda Pennycooke can have a detrimental effect on your congregation. Misrepresentation is usually not a sustainable method of inviting membership growth, nor is soliciting one’s congregation to tacitly go along with such misrepresentation.
And why was it that the pastor felt that white greeters only would necessarily draw in more white people? And could the converse — deterring people of color from choosing to attend by having only white greeters — possibly have been a consideration as well? Is it not negating the entire concept of diversity by targeting a specific ethnicity to fill the seats of the church, even if it was to swing the “racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line?” Because surely in doing so, the pastor presented the idea that more white people would be better for the church, thereby implying that the current multi-racial mix was somehow lacking.
That, of course, was most likely not Pastor Pennycooke’s intent, but there’s a certain saying about a certain road being paved with good intentions…