While looking for a church home several years ago, Daneena Gray of Bowling Green visited many churches, but none of them clicked.
“They were nice to me, but I didn’t ever feel at home,” she said.
That changed when she visited Trinity Full Gospel Baptist Church, where she immediately felt welcome and connected with the congregation.
“I don’t remember ever in my life coming into a church where you can just be you,” she said.
Gray felt genuine love and compassion from the Trinity congregation and also liked the fact that the church was diverse, with a mix of black and white members.
“As soon as you step into our services, you don’t have to look very hard to see how diverse we are,” said Bernie Fugate, an elder at Trinity.
Though the majority of the roughly 100 people who attend a typical Sunday service are black, about a quarter of Trinity’s members and staff are white, including Gray, who serves at the church’s treasurer. She believes Trinity’s diverse environment is important for young people, including her racially mixed children.
“I think it teaches the youth not to be so stuck on tradition,” she said. “Our culture in general is so diverse.”
More than 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. called Sunday morning “the most segregated hour of Christian America,” churches in Bowling Green are more diverse than ever.
Fugate believes churches are a reflection of the people in the community, and as Bowling Green becomes more diverse, he thinks the city’s churches are too.
“We don’t have that quote unquote label that we’re a black church,” he said of Trinity. “I think there are more churches in Bowling Green as a whole that are losing that label.”
He thinks diversity adds a new and needed dynamic to churches such as Trinity that started out as predominantly black.
“I think at some point, we made the decision where we said our relationship with our Lord and savior Jesus Christ is more important than tradition,” Fugate said. “If tradition gets in the way of the worship experience, then the worship experience is going to win out every time over what tradition says.”
Rather than sticking along racial lines, he thinks people are choosing churches where they fit spiritually and where they feel at home.
“When you’re fed spiritually, you don’t really care about the color of the pastor,” Fugate said.
State Street Baptist Church is the oldest black church in Bowling Green and is considered the “mother church” of several other historically black churches in town, said the Rev. Freddie Brown, pastor of State Street Baptist. Still, the church reaches out to everyone in the community with its ministries, including Muslims and Hispanics.
“When we get out into the neighborhood, we do anything we can do to help them,” Brown said. “We try to help them any way we can. ... We’re just one community. Despite all our differences ... we’re still in this community together.”
St. Joseph Catholic Church has a large number of Hispanic members and two out of the five Masses every weekend are in Spanish.
“It certainly can be challenging, but I would also say that there’s a certain sense of unity there,” said the Rev. Andrew Garner, pastor of St. Joseph.
Belief is what unites Catholics together worldwide, and experiencing diversity at their local parish is a reflection of the diversity of the Catholic church worldwide, he said.
“I encourage them to bring their culture with them because their celebration of faith and culture enriches all of us,” he said. “It brings out a richness of the expression of our faith.”