White grandmother is embraced by black
congregation at Christ the Cornerstone Community Church
08:32 AM CDT on Monday, March 29, 2010
When Marie Meggs walked into Christ the Cornerstone Community Church in
2006, Pastor Otis Adams was surprised. Elderly white women don't drop by
black churches often, and he assumed her first visit would be her last.
"It's just not normal," says the pastor of the DeSoto church. "Sunday is
still the most segregated hour. ... Many times white people will come and
once they recognize that it's a predominately African American church, then
some won't even finish the service. And those who do, we never see them
Deacon Alfred Johnson gave Marie Meggs
a hug on Sunday at Christ the Cornerstone Community Church in DeSoto. Meggs,
94, joined the church in 2006 and is one of two white members. The church
plans to name a fellowship hall in her honor next month.
But four years later Meggs, 94, is such a cherished member of the
congregation, the church is naming its new fellowship hall after her next
"She's become the mother of the church," says Adams, explaining the
decision to honor Meggs. "It's not just simply her age, it's not because
she's of another race, but her impact on the church."
Meggs, whose energy and stylish appearance belie her years, tears up when
talking about her church home and the honor it's bestowing on her.
"I have only belonged to four churches and there's more love here," she
observes while waiting for her Life Enrichment Sunday school class to start.
"When they love the Lord, they love the Lord."
Sitting in a small classroom or the larger sanctuary at the DeSoto
church, the great-great-grandmother is like a pearl nestled in black velvet.
One other white person has joined the church since she did, but everyone
else in the congregation, which numbers about 75 families, is black.
Meggs began attending Christ the Cornerstone, a Baptist church, after her
previous church sold its building and moved to Midlothian. Members of her
old church offered to give her a ride to the new location. Or she could have
attended other predominantly white churches in the neighborhood.
But Meggs chose Christ the Cornerstone because she knew some members,
including Adams' wife, from the time the two congregations shared a
"We would meet in the hallway sometime or in the parking lot on the way
to our cars," Ann Adams says. When Meggs' church moved, "I was hoping and
praying that she would seriously consider coming with us."
Though the situation is unusual, no one treats Meggs like an oddity.
"They just took me in like I was one of them," Meggs says. "It didn't make
any difference if I was white. They thought as much of me as they did their
own people and they treated me as such. They just loved me."
Meggs lives independently in her own home. And she still drives.
She pulls up to the church in a small gray Toyota Echo about 30 minutes
before Sunday morning services. An usher hustles out of the church to open
her car door. Someone else carries her Bible and a third person lends her an
arm to lean on.
The chairman of the hospitality committee greets her with a hug. She
takes Meggs' car keys so she can later leave several prepared meals – meat
loaf, green beans, candied sweet potatoes, pineapple raisin and apple salad
and cornbread – in the car for her to take home.
Meggs walks slowly, balancing on her high heels with a cane. Even so,
Pastor Adams says she is among the church's most active members. She
participates in special events like a recent women's conference. She bakes
goodies, sews costumes for church pageants, raises money and recruits new
Meggs was born in 1915 in a log cabin in Dexter,
Texas, outside Gainesville. Racial segregation was the norm when she was
younger, but, she says, "I have always loved people, no matter black,
yellow, white whatever."
The worship style at Christ the Cornerstone includes guitar and drums,
piano and a choir with tambourines. It's different from what she's
accustomed to, but Meggs enjoys it. She doesn't sway during hymns, but
rhythmically taps the back of the chair in front of her. She doesn't shout
the way some congregants do, but claps her hands and murmurs the occasional
"The only thing against it is it's too loud," she says.
But there's no question Christ the Cornerstone is her church. When her
only son died, she asked Pastor Adams to conduct the service. Her white
family was there, and her black church family turned out in force.
Though Meggs has lost her husband and her son, she's not alone. She has
two grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and two
great-great-grandchildren. Some of them occasionally attend services with
her, and great-grandson Max Meggs says the family has been surprised but
supportive of her church choice.
Pastor Adams says Meggs' presence in the congregation has been a growth
experience for other members.
Initially some were skeptical, he says, but now she is "revered." Many of
them call her during the week or drop by to visit. "It has brought the
reality of our faith into practice," he says.
On April 9, the weekend Christ the Cornerstone celebrates its fifth
anniversary, a short ceremony will be held dedicating the Marie Meggs
"It surprised me so much, I can't begin to tell," Meggs says. "Only God
knows how much I love those people."