By Olivia Barrow
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
“Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday,” sang the congregation of Antioch Baptist Church Sunday, Oct. 30. They finished in four-part harmony, singing, “Amen!”
The recipient of the hearty birthday wishes was a first-year from UNC, Jeff Newell, who attended the church’s 8 a.m. worship service with about 20 other students from the college ministry of the Chapel Hill Bible Church.
Newell, a music major who grew up in Hillsborough, said he’d never had a whole church congregation wish him a happy birthday during the service.
“It felt awesome,” he said. “It was funny.” Newell said he had attended services at Antioch once or twice before as part of a long-standing partnership Antioch has with the Chapel Hill Bible Church.
Swaying side to side or singing along from the pew, the congregation clapped to the jazz music from a keyboardist, drummer and a gospel choir leading the worship.
“I like the energy and that they’re always singing and making music,” said Lucy Yang, a sophomore at Duke from Maryland.
Michael Page, the pastor of Antioch for the past 10 years, said the once-or-twice-a-semester visit from the college group is encouraging to the church.
“I think it’s a powerful statement that they are wanting to be involved not only in the community but in the affairs of the church as well,” he said.
In addition to supporting each other by attending each other’s services a few times a year, members of Antioch and the Bible Church work together to run a halfway house in Durham and on a project to fed the homeless on Christmas Day.
“We also work collaboratively on projects that we see as being essential to our citizens to improve the quality of life for them,” Page said.
Kristina Podesta, a senior and the UNC college ministry intern with the Bible Church, said that after having attended worship at Antioch eight or nine times while in college, she can see a difference in her attitude.
“I think it definitely has made me aware of how willing people are to have relationships and partnership if you are willing to work it out,” Podesta said. “I think that I fear that since I’m in the majority, people won’t want to pursue relationships. It’s good to realize the only excuse I have is fear.”
Podesta said she has been able to recognize and be recognized by others at Antioch after attending several times over her three and a half years at UNC and volunteering over spring break.
She said the partnership has also impacted her faith.
“I think it’s made me really aware of divisions within Christianity and aware that we as a majority culture need to be intentional about not making that a hallmark of Christianity in the U.S.,” she said.
Roddy Dinsmore, the college minister at the Bible Church, said the trip prompted deep conversations among the students about racial segregation in American churches.
“Stuff like this causes us to think about what the pros and cons of a homogenous congregation might be and why these things happen,” Dinsmore said.
Page said the partnership between the two churches helps expand Antioch’s ability to serve the community.
“It allows us to have greater strength in numbers when we are providing the kind of services we do,” he said. “It’s a great partnership and we are very appreciative of the connection.”