White greeters only? Church apologizes for pastor's request

White greeters only? That's what a black pastor in Charlotte, N.C., requested. But church leaders quickly apologized for the "white greeters only" email. What does it take to be a church greeter?

WBTV video grab
The entrance to the Freedom House church in Charlotte, N.C.

Most would agree with Pastor Makeda Pennycooke when she wrote: "First impressions matter."

Most would agree with her statement that a church wants "the best of the best on the front doors."

But Pastor Pennycooke, an African American who is executive pastor at Freedom House in Charlotte, N.C., was accused of being racist when she emailed black volunteers saying that "only white people" should be greeters at the front door of the church. She explained that it was part of an effort to "bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line."

When an angry parishioner made the email public, Freedom House quickly apologized.

"The email was sent by one of our longtime pastors in an attempt to emphasize that our greeting team reflect the racial diversity of our entire congregation," read a statement sent to WBTV Channel 3 in Charlotte.  "However, she admitted it was a mistake to over-emphasize any specific group and sent an apology email within 24 hours of the original email going out." 

"The pastors have been meeting with staff and church members to confirm their commitment to diversity and to ensure nothing like this happens again," church officials told WBTV. "Freedom House believes in a diverse relationship within its membership, reflecting the larger community in which the church resides, doing life together as a church representative of everyone -- culturally, ethnically, economically, and generationally."

Freedom House churchgoers were also quick to defend the church. "FH is the most ethnically diverse church I've seen in Charlotte, and the most welcoming, " wrote Vikki Wantanabe in the comments section of the WBTV article.

When UPI reported on this story, one anonymous commenter said: "I find nothing wrong with the pastor trying to encourage white[s] to be part of her church. The most segregated day of the week in America is Sunday. I have observed as a foreigner as a christian that whites are terrified going into an African American church. When they do, they are very uncomfortable. I think this pastor is doing the right thing to help the whites attending her church to calm down and not be frightened."

But Michael A. Stevens, who identified himself as a African American outreach coordinator at Christians United for Israel, wrote on the WBTV's website: "Let's deal with the real and current disease of systematic and subliminal racial still alive and well in the church today!

If race is not an acceptable basis for choosing a greeter, what is?

Freedom House doesn't have publicly available guidelines for choosing ushers or greeters. But the 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., usher's training manual states:

"Not just anyone can be an usher. In the same way that not just anyone can sing in the choir, work in the children's ministry or lead a small group. The right gifts, passion, and ability make a big difference. As you recruit new ushers, keep spiritual qualities, characteristics and usher responsibilities in mind."

What spiritual qualities are requisite for an usher? The 12Stone guidelines lists love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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