DALLAS (CBS11) – Across North Texas, we see it in every instance of tragedy: people coming together.
A Dallas faith leader wants to take those moments and turn them into movements.
Pastor Richie Butler has a commitment to bringing together people of all backgrounds and differences.
When Reverand Butler came to pastor St. Paul United Methodist Church two and a half years ago, he had one word in mind: Unity.
“If we had stayed divided, I don’t know where we would be today,” Butler said, walking through the aisles of the 143-year-old sanctuary in the Dallas Arts District.
The St. Paul congregation was aging, with approximately 70 people worshiping on Sunday mornings.
Butler helped merge a non-denominational church he founded, Union Cathedral, with the United Methodist Church.
Today, attendance at St. Paul is triple what it was before his arrival.
“I tell people, St. Paul was not going to become history. It was going to make history,” Butler said.
Different people, of different beliefs growing together. It is a straightforward concept Reverend Butler sees as applicable to another divide: race relations.
He remembers the atmosphere in the St. Paul sanctuary after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of Michael Brown.
“There was anger, there was resentment, there was mistrust, frustration and disenfranchisement,” he recalls.
Butler says he started focusing on what people had in common – and how to unite different communities on common ground.
“Out of that I concluded that God was calling me to start Project Unity to really bridge the divide,” the pastor said.
Project Unity has helped efforts to unify Dallas by implementing community building programs aimed at healing race relationships between law enforcement and citizens.
One example: a basketball game and an event called, Together We Ball.
The friendly competition brought police and clergy to play a game of hoops — not against each other, but intermixed among teams.
Some 600 people came out for the first annual game, then more than 2,000 for the second year. Reverend Butler said the impact was apparent.
“One of the volunteer referees said to me after the game, ‘Pastor, I want to thank you for organizing this, because I had a really bad perception and bad attitude about police. He said, this helps reshape and change my perception.’ That’s exactly what we want to do,” Butler said.
The deadly attack on police in Dallas last July took the need to another level. He hopes the momentum that brought people together in the aftermath of the crisis can be maintained.
In January, Butler expanded Project Unity into A Year of Unity for 2017. The theme is “Together We,” as in “Together We Dine; Together We Ball, Together We Heal.”
The events are aimed to bring people together on a regular basis to listen, and learn.
“I don’t want this to be a blow torch where it lights up fast and then fades out quickly; but that it becomes a candle, where it’s consistent,” Butler explained.
He has some powerful support: Mayor Mike Rawlings, NTC Bishop Michael McKee and former President George W. Bush, the honorary chairman.
On Sunday, March 26, more than 20 churches will “swap pulpits,” with their pastors leading worship in front of a congregation other than theirs, for “Together We Worship.”
It’s not the first time Butler has organized an event like this, and it won’t be the last.
“I have enough hope that I believe change can occur,” said Pastor Butler.
To learn more about the “Together We” events organized as a part of a Year of Unity, click here.