(Image courtesy USA Today)
JACKSON, Miss. -- A predominantly white church that brought international attention to a small Mississippi town after refusing to marry a black couple, issued an apology Sunday, admitting that any church is made up of people who "intentionally, at times, choose not to follow the Lord's will."
The page-long statement issued by First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs is a step toward the reconciliation church members have said they longed for since a few weeks ago when a black couple was told they were not allowed to wed in the church.
"As a church, we express our apology to Te'Andrea and Charles Wilson for the hurt that was brought to them in the hours preceding their wedding and beyond," the statement read.
The bride's family, the Hendersons, continued to attend the church, saying that they had faith in Pastor Stan Weatherford and the congregation, and felt the moving of the wedding was simply because of some unfriendly church members.
Weatherford, who has taken the heat for moving the wedding, could not be reached for comment Sunday.
But the statement says, "We, the church, realize that the Hendersons and Wilsons should have never been asked to relocate their wedding. This wrong decision resulted in hurt and sadness for everyone. Both the pastor and those involved in the wedding location being changed have expressed their regrets and sorrow for their actions."
Weatherford said his aim has always been ultimately to unite the church.
Te'Andrea Wilson's family attends the church because of a friendship they formed with Weatherford's family when he began helping her brother learn to play baseball.
A few unidentified members went to Weatherford after seeing the couple's wedding rehearsal two days before their July 21 wedding, and expressed concerns about holding a wedding for a black couple in the church.
It would have been the first one that anyone could remember. Probably the first in the church's history.
The wedding was moved to a nearby church, though Weatherford still conducted the ceremony. He said he was trying to find a "win-win," because he didn't want controversy to spoil the couple's special day.
But the story of a largely white Mississippi church that wouldn't marry a black couple crossed the nation quickly, and soon it was worldwide, drawing vehement criticism for the town and the state.
Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson could not be reached for their reaction to the apology, but recently they said they weren't sure how to feel about invitations to return to the church.
"I'm not saying we're not sinners," said Charles Wilson. "We're all sinners. We're born in sin," he said. "But you're not born to hate. No child is born to hate. You have to be taught to hate. When you say come to the church, are the same people that put us out of church still there? How have they changed?"
But the congregation as a whole wants to open its arms not only to the Wilsons, but to others, and to each other, the statement said.
"We encourage our pastor and staff, leaders and members to help one another, bear one another's burdens, and to forgive one another for our faults and failures," the apology said.