By Rachel Gunter Shapard
How are Cooperative Baptists in Florida serving as partners in renewing God’s world? The most basic representation is this: individuals and churches are simply showing up.
For two years, CityGate Ministries in Fort Myers has been showing up in the nearby neighborhood of Southward Village, home to a public housing complex of more than 200 units. During monthly Rock the Block events, CityGate members have shown up to paint faces, serve lunch, lead recreational games and establish relationships with the people of this marginalized community. They have created the space for joy in a neighborhood where joyfulness has been severely lacking.
When an aspiring female chaplain came to North Stuart Baptist Church after discovering that her own church would not ordain her, the saints of NSBC showed up to offer Bettina Phagan support, encouragement and resources. Cooperative Baptists in Stuart have introduced Bettina to a new network of Baptists — those that will affirm her calling into gospel ministry, recognizing that her gender is inconsequential in light of her giftedness and willingness to serve.
Members of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispaña de Deltona are showing up each week to experience spiritual formation sessions. More than 30 members of this Latino congregation have placed value on expanding their understanding of the discipline of prayer. These Cooperative Baptists have found that in cultivating this spiritual discipline they are able to more fully discern their role in renewing God’s world.
When a study was released showing that 24,000-plus children in Leon County suffer from food insecurity and more than 50 percent of public school students require meal assistance, churches in Tallahassee showed up to take action. First Baptist Church of Tallahassee became a partner in A Full Summer, an initiative launched in 2013 by St. John’s Episcopal Church to feed children who might otherwise go hungry during the summer months. This year, more than 250 volunteers from First Baptist, St. John’s as well as other community members will gather to assemble low-cost meals for families in need. These two congregations are raising $20,000 to provide 60,000 nutritious meals!
Over the past year, Cooperative Baptists in Florida and the Caribbean set a goal to raise $55,000 for the Annual Missions Offering, with half of the proceeds pledged to support CBF field personnel serving in Florida as well as field personnel from the Sunshine State. Floridians are showing up to support authentic, life-changing ministries.
Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville recently planned an intergenerational mission work day. One of the projects for the day was tending the congregation’s community garden, which provides fresh vegetables to an area food bank. On the work day, a small group of church members showed up to participate. Children and adults pulled up fresh carrots and potatoes and cut off lettuce leaves. An eight-year-old boy learned how to till the soil to prepare for a new planting.
As the work in the garden continued, the most amazing thing happened: the people on the ball field next door began coming over to see what all the excitement was about. The younger siblings of those playing ball were the first to arrive. “What are you doing?” they asked. “Can we help?”
Then the parents of the children walked over to check on their kids and more questions followed. “What’s going on? Can we pitch in?”
What started out as a small group of Hendricks Avenue members soon became a small crowd. A few people who showed up to nourish their community for the sake of love inspired others to do the same. Taking part in the renewing of God’s world turns out to be contagious and compelling!
Time and time again, Cooperative Baptists in Florida have found that the most basic act of being present as partners in the renewing of God’s world creates the opportunity for something beautiful to emerge. God is able to go above and beyond all that we might ask or think — it all starts with simply showing up.
Rachel Gunter Shapard serves as the Associate Coordinator of CBF of Florida. Rachel has a B.A. in music from Florida State University and a Masters of Divinity with an emphasis in Christian Education from McAfee School of Theology.