RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Changing the perception of church is a goal for a network of congregations pushing for change.
“To build power in the underserved communities,” said Rev. Rae Whitely, the assistant pastor for Healing Hands Ministry.
“To bring equality, bring democracy to the black and brown communities,” said Rev. Tony F. Drayton, the lead pastor at St. James Missionary Baptist Church.
“It’s always said without a vision, people will perish.,and we all have a common mindset,” said Rev. Evangeline Ward, the associate minister of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church.
Faith in Florida is built up of about a hundred congregations in Palm Beach County and more in the state.
“Clergy has a different role in Palm Beach County, and we are representing the interests and concerns of the communities we serve in,” said Rev. Rae Whitely. “Not only our churches, but our communities.”
Faith in Florida has looked to change the way church happens. They want to take it outside the four walls and into the community, tackling issues that matter to the neighborhood.
“We’ve adopted 3 blocks from our churches,” said Rev. Whitely.
“I’m going to put a sign, by the exit, the church has left the building,” said Rev. Drayton. “So that means we ought to be out on the street, the pavement, being champions of change.”
They’re looking to tackle issues and create change in communities.
“Gun violence. In a time of a pandemic, whether to get vaccinated or not. There are also issues of democracy,” said Rev. Drayton.
They said they’ve been successful in tacking “societal issues,” and point to COVID vaccination events, anti-gun violence and peace rallies, and work on restoring voting rights for felons.
“The black church has always been the voice for the people,” said Rev. Whitely.
Derrick McCray of McCray’s Barbecue is among those who have worked with Faith in Florida.
“I was a convicted felon many years ago,” he said. “I was young, dumb, doing dumb things when I was in my 20’s, and I finally grew up… I was happy to get my rights restored and to become a productive member of society and a community leader.”
He said he’s now ushering those behind him.
“At McCray’s, we hire those guys getting out of jail and lead them into the right direction and steer them toward Faith in Florida, so they can get their rights restored and get back on track.”
The group has identified what they call a problem.
“We do pretty well inside the building, preaching to those that are there, but on the streets, in the pavement, on the community, there is a lot to be desired,” said Rev. Drayton.
Faith in Florida is trying out a new approach.
“They are going directly to the problem. it’s in the streets,” said McCray. “It’s not just about the convicted felons, but it’s an overall approach they are taking to help the least, the lost, and left-out to get back into mainstream society.”
A solution is also now in the works. Rev. Ward said the role of clergy is changing.
“We find it is just not within the walls of the congregation, alright?” she said “The needs of the people are out of the walls.”