LAFAYETTE — A church celebrates and all are welcome under the tent.
It is Seed Sowing Sunday at the Spirit of Faith Church on Touchet Road. Lead Pastor Tracie Millard takes the stage in sneakers, a T-shirt and jeans topped with a blazer.
Youthful in ways that belie their 50s, Millard and her co-pastor and husband, Derrick Millard, greet the multitude while on a large screen, as the words to "Living in the Overflow" float by.
“You don’t want to be found fighting against God,” said Tracie Millard, whose service on this day is more Broadway than brimstone.
With perfect pitch, she breaks into an impromptu chorus of "Ride on, King Jesus, no man can a-hinder me …” She and her husband have not only sustained a 30-year-marriage, they’ve sustained a new church for five years.
That alone is reason to celebrate, and the occasion for some friendly banter.
“First gentleman, and I wear my role proudly,” announced Derrick Millard.
“He’s always been the one to correct me,” Tracie Millard added with a smile.
“This isn’t a gimmick,” Derrick Millard continued. “This is all God.”
The church began on Sept. 2, 2012, with a service at the Cajundome on the heels of a hurricane. Three to four hundred people attended, 28 of which committed themselves to the Millards' ministry.
“Partners, not members,” she explained. “The average attendance is 150-200 weekly with 500 on the rolls.”
One of her intentions was to make church fun.
“It cannot be what it was in my generation,” said Tracie Millard, an Abbeville native. “All churches have the same product — Jesus. Our intention was to light a fire.”
Her other goal is to reach across race, culture and generation gaps to have one church for all.
“I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” she said. “This is not what the kingdom of God looks like. God didn’t plan for Hispanics to go to Hispanic churches, white people to go to white churches, etc. If we can be there for one another in the midst of crisis, then it can be every day.”
In a city traditionally separated along racial lines, it may be simpler for the biblical camel to pass through the needle’s eye.
“You have to change the mind-set,” she said. “Not just the white mind-set, the black mind-set, too. We have to be intentional. Have tough skins. You have to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people who don’t look like you.”
Her church practices what it preaches.
Last year, Spirit of Faith partnered with the United Way in relief efforts for the flood and passed out buckets in the neighborhood located closest to them. They showed up at a laundromat with doughnuts and juice and paid for the patrons’ laundry for several hours.
In the past five years, the church has hosted a blood drive with United Blood Services for those who suffer from sickle cell disease. It has also hosted a health fair, collaborated with a RaceWay gas station for a giveaway, and held a leadership conference with Dewayne Freeman and the Chosen Conference to encourage young women to seek a purpose in life.
This evening, it’s a Popup Business Expo, the goal of which is to highlight community vendors.
“The number five in biblical numerology is a year of grace,” Tracie Millard said. “Our approach to doing church is different. We decided not to do things 'in church.' We wanted to give back to the community.”
Spirit of Faith also knocks on doors.
“You have to be confident and not intimidated,” she said. “Love knows no color; love knows no social barriers. Love is love.”
Ena Darby and her husband, Clarence, love their partnership with Spirit of Faith Church and credit it with saving their marriage.
“We were on the verge of being over,” said Ena Darby, taking her husband’s arm. “Pastor Derrick and Tracie are living examples. I never imagined this is what a marriage could be— what God intended.”
Brenda and Barry Shelvin have been church partners since the beginning and like the cross-cultural, multigenerational welcome.
“I’ve been involved all my life in churches,” said Barry Shelvin. “Now my marriage is better, and I appreciate my friends more.”
“Love, lift and lead,” said Brenda Shelvin. “Tracie is my niece, and when someone brings it like she brings it, it resonates.”
The biggest draw for millennial Ava Hill is the love between the generations. “I can transfer it to my peers,” she said.
For now, Pastor Tracie Millard is intent upon a new building coming soon to replace the one her church has outgrown. In the meantime, she continues her mission for one church, one fold.
“People live at the level they’re taught,” she said. “We’re more Christian than we are political, black or white.
“It’s better when you just trust God.”