Twice a month, a diverse group of Statesville citizens comes together over glasses of wine and beer to talk about ways to overcome the racial, religious and generational barriers that separate them.
Although the program, Water into Wine, was started by local churches, organizers say anyone is welcome to attend the sessions. Members have respectful conversations about hot-button issues such as confederate monuments, mental health and race, among other topics.
“The goal for us is to help break the cycle we’re in of anger and people being able to isolate themselves from any worldview other than their own,” said Rev. Wes Pitts, one of the group’s founders. Pitts is also director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Statesville.
Pitts started Water into Wine with Rev. Carrilea Potter Hall, associate pastor of Broad Street United Methodist Church in Statesville, because they recognized a need for community discussion in a relaxed space. The two soon met Rev. Justin Cox, minster to students at First Baptist Church in Statesville, and all three now facilitate the meetings.
Hall said the inclusive nature of the program allowed members to have conversations with those of other denominations and religions. Such experiences are important for people of faith.
Water into Wine is “building bridges across different groups of people and created a space for people who wouldn’t come into a church,” Hall said. “I hope the group grows in diversity. This is a very polarized world, and this could be a space where we see our similarities.”
The relationships formed help people educate each other, Pitts said. When Water into Wine discussed mental health, he learned of several services offered in Statesville. Many of the topics the group discusses are informative for all involved.
Several of the participants say it’s helping unite people who wouldn’t normally interact.
“A community has formed of very different backgrounds, from Jews to Methodists to Presbyterians to people who don’t follow any religion,” said Jim Tarman, Water into Wine member who also attends First Presbyterian Church.
Tarman nominated Pitts for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Award from Presbyterian USA for his involvement with Water into Wine. On June 20, the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations gave Pitts the award.
In a time when so few people are willing to talk with those who disagree with them, Pitts said, he believed GACEIR recognized Water into Wine’s culture of open diverse discussion was valuable.
Pitts said few people willingly talk to someone with whom they disagree. The award shows that Water into Wine’s culture of open and diverse discussion is valuable, he believes.
“I don’t think we can experience all of who God is when we’re isolated in our little box,” Pitts said.