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Bridging the Long-Standing Divide

Center City Church in Charlotte seeks to be a beacon for economic and racial reconciliation, starting with children.

By early 2015, Assemblies of God Pastor David Docusen had grown uncomfortable in the church he planted five years earlier in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. Meeting in a community replete with million-dollar homes, Docusen sensed the largely white and affluent congregation couldn’t impact the ethnically diverse city the way the gospel demanded.

So, a year and a half ago, Docusen announced that the body, Center City Church, would move to a strategic location straddling Charlotte’s wealthy Uptown community and the historically high-poverty, crime-ridden west side.

Nearly one third of the churchgoers left after the relocation announcement. But since the shift became a reality on Sept. 11, more newcomers have joined Center City Church, and the congregation is more representative of the region’s ethnicities.

“We believe the Lord has positioned us perfectly to be a bridge between the rich and the poor of the city,” Docusen says.

The church, now located on Freedom Drive, is one of eight nonprofit tenants in a 40,000-square-foot warehouse owned by Christian businessman Casey Crawford, a former tight end on the Carolina Panthers. Working in collaboration at a property called the Movement Center, the Christ-centered entities strive to serve the myriad needs of West Charlotte.

Under the auspices of the Movement Foundation, Crawford leases a 7,500-square-foot space to Center City Church, which is part of the AG’s Church Multiplication Network, for $5 a square foot, a fracture of the property’s value. The church has raised half a million dollars to renovate its share of the facility, with an additional $150,000 left to be financed.

On Sundays, the church meets in a 300-seat multipurpose space, with five classrooms available to teach children and youth. During the week, those classrooms are utilized by UrbanPromise Charlotte, in a venue in which top academic high school students from West Charlotte tutor low-performing, at-risk kids.

A recent Harvard University study ranked Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, at the bottom for urban areas offering opportunities for kids to escape poverty.

“If we can do a good job caring for the children in the neighborhood — children who have been overlooked by government programs or who have fallen through the cracks — with afterschool mentoring programs that we’ve partnered with, we can also get to know the families and their needs,” says Docusen, 37.

Job training, addiction counseling, computer classes, and food for the hungry also are available on site through the Movement Foundation organizations.

“Really, meeting all these needs is a form of discipleship,” says Docusen, whose doctoral dissertation at the AG’s Southeastern University is focused on the gospel response to racial and socioeconomic divides. “Helping sustain families by providing jobs is at the heart of the gospel. We’re not just trying to make them wealthier, but we’re trying to move them into a place of spiritual health and wholeness.”



In such a context, Center City Church, which is an AGTrust/CMN Matching Fund church, has been at the heart of trying to build bridges in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old African-American man, on Sept. 20. Nights of demonstrations and riots followed. The death follows similar shootings earlier in the summer in other U.S. cities, including Dallas and Milwaukee.

As its glistening skyline attests, Charlotte in recent years has become a financial powerhouse, headquarters to various banking and insurance corporations. But Docusen contends the eruption of violence illustrates that economic opportunities have existed only for the privileged and powerful. He notes that Charlotte, like the rest of the South, has a long history of racial segregation preceded by slavery.

“The crisis in Charlotte didn’t start last week,” Docusen says. “It’s been going on for generations, with a divide between the rich and the poor.”

Docusen says numerous white Christians still haven’t grasped the message of many in the African-American community.

Sanchez Fair, the worship leader at Center City Church, has been among the Charlotte pastors engaged in prayer vigils in the streets at night, striving to be a faithful presence in the midst of chaos.

“My main goal is to be a symbol of hope for people in Charlotte, to show there are religious people who are passionate about reconciliation and justice,” says Fair, 27.

As an African-American male, Fair brings a perspective that Docusen and Joseph Phillips, the church’s associate pastor, want to hear.

“I really admire that David and Joseph admit they don’t have all the answers,” Fair says. “They are passionate about tackling the issue head-on, but they will apologize in humility when they fall short.”

Fair says he has been impressed with multiple white pastors on the streets of Charlotte in recent nights, offering to pray, but mostly just listening to the frustrations expressed by black residents.

“It’s encouraging to see them step outside their comfort zone,” Fair says.

Docusen hopes ministers of all races and denominations engage in the ongoing racial discussion in an effort for mutual understanding.

“I believe it is the charge of this generation to listen long enough to each other so that we can truly understand how to love each other with grace and mutuality," Docusen says.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.