Kayla Henderson-Wood | OBSERVER Correspondent

Pastor Karif Lawrence, a former assistant pastor at Antioch Progressive Church, is the new pastor at Southside Community Church, which has a predominantly White congregation. He says he welcomes the opportunity. Louis Bryant, OBSERVER

Pastor Karif Lawrence’s childhood friends, family and faith community gathered for his installation as pastor at Southside Community Church on July 18.

The congregation numbers about 40 people, but because of Lawrence’s extensive network, the church held more than 150 people this particular Sunday.

“He loves the Lord, he never waivers, he’s consistent, he knows the word and can preach to all generations,” said Mary Knox-Ford, a member of Antioch Progressive Church.

Lawrence not only spoke to the word of God with great knowledge, but also has lived by the same morals he has regularly preached. He was christened at six weeks old in the church and has stayed since, according to his mother. His character reflects a genuine devotion to the word of God and has made him an easy man to follow as he led the Southside Community Church congregation through transition.

The church lost its pastor, along with several other staff, last year. Lawrence had served as interim pastor. After months of his showing up for the church, Lawrence was the clear choice to become the pastor. Now he is being celebrated for the work that led to this moment.

Pastor Lawrence grew up in Sacramento, attending Christian elementary and middle schools, and later earned his degree at Epic Bible College. Most of his classmates were White, Hispanic or Asian. The one predominantly Black space was the church he regularly attended on Sundays.

Lawrence said that throughout his education he experienced microaggressions from his predominantly White teachers. However overt or unintentional, it grew to become something he noticed. As political and social events developed across the country, he began to see how different things could be interpreted by people of the same faith, but of different races.

When Barack Obama became president, Lawrence heard people say, “This is not God’s person.”

The sentiment was much different at his church. “I’m coming from a Black church context where Obama means praise,” Lawrence said.

Pastor Lawrence served as interim of Southside Community Church during its transition between leaders. After months of his showing up for the church, Lawrence was the clear choice to become the pastor. Louis Bryant, OBSERVER

This divisiveness among the faith community proved challenging for Pastor Lawrence, both locally and on a national level. Across the United States, several White Christian leaders questioned the existence of racism, all the while claiming to love their Black brothers and sisters in the church. This didn’t make sense to Lawrence.

“Hearing that conversation, from a Christian perspective, was somewhat challenging,” he said. “I almost kind of said, ‘Are we reading the same book?’”

Lawrence now preaches for a multicultural but predominantly White church. He sees this as an opportunity to bring a sense of togetherness. He preaches with authenticity, speaking to the experiences of Black Christians in relation to their White counterparts and about how faith should be inclusive. He aims to continue to work through divisiveness and build community.

Pastor Lawrence sees his goals moving forward as clear and simple: to foster and grow an inclusive community, to teach boldly the truth, and to meet the needs of the community.

“Essentially,” Lawrence said, “it was a guidance of destiny and purpose.”