Local pastors strive for racial unity in Columbia

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COLUMBIA – After the racial protests on MU's campus last fall, local pastors are working together to spread racial unity in Columbia.

Bishop Lester Woods Jr., senior pastor of Urban Empowerment Ministries, said his personal mission is bridging the gap in Columbia by bringing people together and creating opportunities. He said his church specifically is working on non-violence and employment initiatives.

"We've got to do more to bring about unity in the community to address the disparities and the social economic diversities and disparities in our community," Woods said. 

He is one of at least 30 pastors who have joined the effort.

People gathered Jan. 24 to celebrate racial unity at The Crossing Church, and the crowd spilled into two overflow rooms.

“To see the people that were in attendance, not just that the church was packed, but the representation of the diversity of people from our community that had attended, was only something that God could have done himself,” Woods said. 

He said he worked with local pastors to come up with the concept after discussing racial issues. He said half of the leaders were black and half were white.

Keith Simon, senior teaching pastor at The Crossing, said he and Woods meet one on one, and he hopes they can set an example. 

"If we get to know each other, if we can build bridges to each other, then we can model to the community how we can build bridges to each other," Simon said. 

He said the recent racial protests at MU really put things into perspective for him.

"Events last fall kind of, at least in my own conscience, brought me to a point where I said that 'this can't just be something I wait on, I've got to act on it,'" Simon said.

Bryan Smith, a pastor from Farmington, Missouri, said he drove more than three hours to attend this event because he wants to do the same thing at his church.

"We want to show our community that we are unified and that we are going to stand together no matter what race you are," Smith said. "We can tell people all day long that we will change and we can tell people all day long that this is what we want, but showing them is a different thing."

Woods said he still believes the community has work to do, but the worship service gave him hope.

"We can surely work together to make change happen in our city and our community," Woods said.

He said the pastors plan to meet at the end of February to talk about how they want to move forward.