John and Tammy Amorosso see the big church billboards on our county roads.
They depict a rainbow congregation—blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians. Everybody’s happy about their church.
They want you to join them for Sunday worship.
Sometimes when the Amorossos accept those invites, they leave disappointed. So often the church’s racial makeup doesn’t measure up to the impression left by the ad.
“You’re lucky if you have one percent” minority, said John Amorosso, 36, a physicians recruiter who works from his home in Dacula. “Finding a church with a good mix of people has been kind of a struggle for us for quite a while.”
John Amorosso wrote me after reading a column about Jung Han, a Korean woman who worships at mostly black Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Norcross.
The Amorossos are looking for a church home—“an integrated church,” Amorosso wrote. “Do you have any recommendations?”
Later, he told me that they are a biracial couple. He’s Italian; Tammy, 38, is black.
“We have two kids, and we’d like to have our kids worship and be around people of different colors and ethnic backgrounds,” Amorosso said. “We don’t want them isolated one way or the other.”
The family needs a church capable of performing a delicate balancing act—satisfying John’s Catholic upbringing as well as Tammy’s Baptist roots. Worship services can’t be too staid or too high-energy.
When it comes to integration on Sunday morning, Victory World Church in Norcross comes as close to perfecting it as anyone. It’s one of the few truly integrated houses of worship in metro Atlanta.
Dennis and Colleen Rouse, the church’s senior co-pastors, are white. They preach racial inclusiveness, which explains the 4,500-member congregation’s makeup: 60 percent black, 30 percent white and 10 percent Hispanic and Asian. It hasn’t been easy to sustain.
“To get to those 4,500, we have gone through thousands and thousands of people over the last 14 1/2 years,” said Dennis Rouse, a McDonough native.
“As soon as some white people come in and don’t like the style of music, or don’t like the racial majority, they get up and leave,” he said. “Now, they would never say it, but they prefer to go somewhere where they are not the minority.
“On the other hand, we have black people who come to our church and like everything about it,” he continued. “But some still prefer to be over there with ‘the brothers’ in an all-black church. It’s a challenge for our church, and it has cost us some people.”
I asked Amorosso what would be an ideal church setting. He’d like a strong children’s ministry, and a congregation where blacks make up at least 10 percent of the population.
“Honestly, I would know it when I see it,” he said. “There would be a feeling there. Dr. King once said that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. It’s a shame. If Jesus came back, he’d look at us and say, ‘You guys have got it all wrong.’ ”