The day after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Church United hosted a prayer vigil. At the vigil, we, the “capital C” Church, made a commitment to be with the MSD community for the long haul. As we gathered to serve the community at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on August 11, we not only demonstrated our commitment to that promise, but became the very presence of Jesus Christ to a place that had experienced tremendous loss and pain.
With a timeline of three weeks, many people thought a large scale project of this size wasn’t possible. There was simply too much to plan and too many people and details to manage.
However, together, the Church hosted six all-staff appreciation lunches and breakfasts, planted entirely new landscaping for every corner of the school, assembled appreciation baskets for all 153 teachers and 85 support staff members complete with $50 Starbucks and $50 Walmart gift cards along with a handwritten appreciation note to each staff member, provided a $10,000 teacher creativity grant and underwrote an admin staff “fun” day…in three short weeks. God’s people powerfully demonstrated the possibilities of collaboration and the community took note.
Over 550 people from across various sectors of society – local government, non-profit, business, and education – linked arms, with the Church leading the way. “I got my business involved because it was the right thing to do. It was great to hear the needs of the school and see how we could be a part, leverage who we know, and maximize the impact,” said Jordon Ross, owner of Florida Boys Lawn and Landscaping. Towards that end, when the Home Depot Foundation and Walmart caught wind that multiple churches were involved in this project, they were quick to jump in and help contribute materials and resources, allowing us to stretch every dollar we raised.
When we’re willing to lay down our “brand” and our individual identities as churches and embrace our shared identities as a people who bear the name and image of God, anything is possible. In so many ways, the project at MSD tangibly demonstrated the “why” of Church United. Simply put: when churches work together, not only do we get so much more accomplished, the aroma and witness of Jesus becomes stronger and more attractive to the watching world.
It was one comment, made by a MSD parent, that really put the whole project into perspective: “I was blown away that people, especially church people, still cared. I’m not a Christian and I’ve been angry at God since the shooting here and what it’s done to my children. But to see the hundreds of people here, to feel their love and care, has me thinking that maybe I’ve been wrong about the church.”
I think so many times, the Church tends to view things like the MSD service project as a “platform” for evangelism. That the real “win” is an opportunity to share our faith. But what if that’s too narrow of a view? Don’t get me wrong, I think we should always be ready to give an account for the hope that we have in Jesus, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t evangelize.
However in the post-Church, post-Christian culture we find ourselves in, sometimes the starting point looks like simple presence. Showing up with a pair of work gloves and a shovel. You see, the motivation to serve others, to care about the flourishing of our local schools and neighborhoods, is rooted in the cross. We love others because of the love and grace shown towards us. The motivation is that simple. When God’s people show up without an ulterior motive and agenda, the rug from the watching world gets pulled out from beneath them and curiosity grows.
Over the course of planning this project, I was asked, “Why are you doing this… what do you really want?” The answer was simple: we love you and we believe God loves you. What if how we responded to Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a natural reflex for God’s people. What if it’s only the beginning. I, and many other pastors in this community think it is. God’s just getting started.
Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida.