An African-American church pastor from North Carolina has been criticised for requesting "only white people" to work as greeters at Freedom House, the church she leads.
Pastor Makeda Pennycooke, who is the executive pastor of operations, reportedly wrote in an email to church volunteers that she wants "the best of the best on the front doors" to greet worshippers because "first impressions matter".
She wrote, "We anticipate having an increase in the number of people visiting and attending Freedom House over the next few weeks. We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line, so we would like to ask that only white people be on the front doors."
Her request sparked a backlash from members of Freedom House. A member of the church who received the email was so outraged that she sent it to local news station WBTV.
Carmen Thomas, a member of the church who sent the letter to WBTV, said: "I was floored. Like it was a jaw dropper. You can put a white face all over the front door. But when you come through those doors, you're going to see African Americans, you're gonna see Asians. You're going to see people of colour."
Shortly after the email was sent out, Freedom House apologised for the incident.
A spokesperson for the church released a statement to WBTV: "One of our longtime pastors, in keeping with our church's desire to be inclusive and intentionally reach out to all races, noticed our front door greeting team was no longer reflecting the racial diversity of our entire congregation, and she wanted potential visitors to see people like themselves upon entering our church. However, she made an error in judgment in requesting all white greeters at the front door, going overboard in placing emphasis on any one race over another in trying to highlight diversity within the greeting team. She admits this was a grave lapse in judgment and is sincerely sorry for her actions. She immediately apologised and has asked our forgiveness. She and senior pastors have made themselves available to meet with any church members who want to discuss this situation with them, and have communicated their true heart in this matter — to be a church welcoming and inclusive to all. Freedom House believes in a diverse relationship within its membership, reflecting the larger community in which the church resides, doing life together as a church representative of everyone — culturally, ethnically, economically, and generationally."
On the church's website, Freedom House is described as "a community of friendly people who are learning to have healthy relationships with God and each other. We're all looking for encouragement and hope, for honest answers to tough questions, and for people who both accept us and push us to grow. Freedom House is a place where these things can and do happen."