Racial tension in Cincinnati was at a peak in 2001. Riots had broken out in downtown. Distrust ran deep. You could feel the walls that had been built up in the community over the years.
In that mix, Northminster Presbyterian Church, a predominantly white congregation, and Winton Hills Presbyterian, a predominantly black congregation, determined that they would make a very public, very visible statement about racial reconciliation.
They built a wall.
This was a very visible wall on the main thoroughfare just out front of Northminster. They called on engineers in the church to design this wall to be resilient and tough. The men of both churches came together and raised this wall of cinderblock and mortar, two courses deep. After it was built, they spray-painted, graffiti-style, words that represented the things that divide the races: “distrust,” “suspicion,” “fear,” “anger,” etc.
The wall stood for a while.
Then, the two churches publicly announced a “tear down the wall” event. Both congregations, black and white, gathered for this all day affair. It had a festival kind of atmosphere with music and food and fellowship.
The members of the congregations lined up to take turns hefting sledgehammers to crack at the wall.
Blow after blow, the wall shook. It was well built.
It’s not just the physical walls we build that are strong.
This was a visible parable playing out before the community. It takes sweat and muscle to tear down a wall. It takes a community to tear down the walls built up between the races.
It was a dramatic lesson illustrating the truth of Ephesians 2:14:
For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…
The physical wall could not withstand the barrage of blows delivered by the whole community. Soon there was a crack. And then a buckle. After the first chunk of block fell, the rest came tumbling down in short order. Eventually, the hands of the church members – black and white, young and old – tore down that stiff, formidable wall.
And they felt free.
We build our walls.
We build them strong.
Christ leads us to tear them down.
Northminster and Winton Hills showed us how it is done.
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