APEX, N.C. -- On the day of 2015's racially motivated attack on nine black worshipers in Charleston, S.C., Pastor Kyle Meier of Peak United Methodist Church picked up the phone to call Rev. James Taylor at nearby St. Mary AME Church.
Meier, who is white, asked if there was anything he and his predominantly white church on North Salem Street could offer Taylor, who is black, and his South Salem Street congregation during a time of grief for black churches around the country.
"I told them, 'I don't know you, and you don't know me, and I'm sorry I waited for an event like this to reach out, but it's apparent that we need to do a better job building bridges between the churches in our communities,'" Meier recalled.
Meier, 28, describes that first contact as "awkward, stumbling and bumbling."
But Taylor, 59, was patient with him, Meier said. Taylor agreed to work with Meier and his congregation, on the condition that the resulting partnership go beyond a surface-level photo opportunity.
"We were explicit that this could not be a spectacle -- 'Look at us, we're not racist because we had dinner one time together,' " Meier said.
The two church leaders, concerned by Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous observation that 11 o'clock on Sunday morning is "one of the most segregated hours in Christian America," have spent the past year working to bring their congregations together. They sought to reckon with the issues that have kept spiritual spaces racially separated into the 21st century.
Those efforts began with dinners and shared services, but Taylor and Meier decided a book study would be the substance of the partnership. The title they selected, Jim Wallis' "America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America," made their intentions clear.
Between both churches, about 60 people showed interest when the book study began in September, but not all of them were immediately comfortable with the text or what would be asked of them during the next nine weeks.
"The first night that we met, everybody was a little tense," Taylor said. "You could tell. But what I've learned is that if you can see that everybody's tense, you address that. Let's deal with the elephant in the room. And once we did that, the tension just went away."