Associated Press, Aug. 2, 2003
Doug Simpson, Associated Press
SHREVEPORT, La. – Week after week, Bishop Fred Caldwell grew tired of seeing so few White faces in his predominantly Black church. So now he is offering to pay Whites to attend.
Starting Sunday, Caldwell will pay Whites $5 an hour out of his own pocket for attending Sunday services and $10 an hour for Thursday night services. The idea hit him during a sermon last week, he said.
“This idea is born of God. God wants a rainbow in his church,” said Caldwell, bishop at Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church, with a congregation of about 5,000.
Caldwell said he has gotten mainly positive responses from his parishioners and from Whites, a number of who have told him they will attend his services for free.
One was Ron Ward, who said he and his wife are the only Whites in a church in a nearby town. Ward said he became frustrated after failing to persuade his White friends to join.
“It’s time for people to stop being separated from each other,” Ward said. “I wanted to come down here and help this minister in any way I can.”
Caldwell said he believes the country is too segregated in all areas, but most of all in its churches.
“The most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11 o’clock. The Lord is tired of it, and I’m certainly tired of it,” he said. “This is not right.”
The bishop’s plan has become the talk of Shreveport, a city of about 200,000, almost equally divided between Black and White residents. In bars, restaurants and coffee shops, residents debated the idea of paying people to attend church.
Some wondered whether the bishop’s regular congregation would feel neglected.
But many Black parishioners said they approved of the project and even donated to it.
“This is not just somebody paying White folks,” said Loretha Bradley, a Black member of Caldwell’s church. “It’s the idea behind it that’s important.”