By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO, Mississippi (Reuters) - A predominantly white church in Mississippi that sparked outrage for refusing to marry a black couple in its chapel has issued an apology, but the newlyweds said on Monday that church leaders had not personally told them they were sorry.
In a statement read at its service and posted online on Sunday, First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs said it never should have asked Te'Andrea Henderson Wilson and Charles Wilson to relocate their July 21 ceremony.
The couple had been told their wedding plans made some congregants uncomfortable at the church in southern Mississippi, a state with a long history of racial divisions.
"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.
"We are seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with our Lord Jesus Christ, Te'Andrea and Charles, family and friends of the Hendersons and Wilsons, our church family, and our community for the actions and attitudes that have recently occurred."
The church said it strives to be open to all people, and its members will continue to pray about the matter.
The church's decision to move the nuptials stirred racial tensions and drew condemnation from across the globe, as well as reaction from government and religious leaders. Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant called it "unfortunate," as did recently elected Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter, who is black.
Contacted on Monday by Reuters, Charles Wilson said he was not satisfied with the apology because it was not delivered directly to him or his wife. It also failed to explain why the church denied them a wedding ceremony based solely on their race, he said.
"As far as this apology, we haven't heard anything," Wilson said. "It was stated that they read the apology to the congregation. We were not in their services, so they did not apologize to us ... They have not sent us a letter. They have not tried to contact us."
Wilson said the couple no longer attends the church. They have been invited to join several others in the area and are in the process of visiting them.
First Baptist Pastor Stan Weatherford asked them to relocate their nuptials because some congregants felt uncomfortable with a black couple marrying in their church. Weatherford still performed the ceremony, but it was held at a nearby United Methodist church.
Wilson said he was shocked when Weatherford suggested they move the wedding. "The biggest question I have is, 'Why? Why?'" Wilson said. "This is 2012."
Weatherford did not immediately return messages requesting an interview on Monday.
On Monday, the editor of the Mississippi Baptist Convention's weekly newsletter, William Perkins, said he was proud of the church for accepting responsibility and issuing what he called an "eloquent" apology. He said it was time for the state to move forward.
"Of course, Mississippi for many decades had struggled with racial issues," Perkins said. "Sometimes it seems like we take two steps forward and one step back. So, we'll move on from this point."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)