Presbyterians Today

OCT 2018

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P r e s by te r i a n s To d ay OCTOBER I n the fall of 2016, the Rev. Dwayne Black, pastor of The Sanctuary Church, found himself behind bars more than once for feeding the homeless on Florida's Fort Lauderdale Beach. His arrest gleaned interna- tional attention. In his defense, Black says he "follows the red letters in Scripture." "This is what we [ministers] signed up for," he said. Black, who says no human being should be left behind, continues to feed 300 to 400 people a week despite the ordinance against it. The city has given up enforcing the ordinance. This full-throttle, expansive, 60-something-year-old visionary was called to The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale seven years ago with one mandate: Turn the church around with its aging and dwindling membership on its eight-acre water- front property, or close its doors. "The church was either going to be the biggest albatross or the biggest blessing," Black said. At its height in 1966, the church had a membership of 1,580. By 2008, the membership had fallen to 104. "When I came to Sanctuary Church in 2011, our membership was down to 25 people, many of whom were in their 80s. There was a sense of security in not changing, but God is always about change — God is always moving. It's dishonoring to those who came before us if we don't change," said Black. Black quickly began partnering with local social justice nonpro—t organizations. Every empty space in the church began —lling with outreach programs that rešected the community. "We partnered with every organi- zation you could think of. I learned I had to go to the people, not expect the people to come to me, to minister to them," he said. The congregation also learned that they had to give every- thing away — space and place — to move on to bigger things. "Hold nothing back; don't be afraid to trust God's provision," said Black. "Everything we do is about missions." In other words, the church began living into its name as a place of sanctuary. Working side by side On an average day, more than 400 people attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are present on the church campus. Black is visible at their meetings and has an open of—ce door policy, establish- ing personal relationships with those who attend. A number of other recovery groups meet on campus as well. For Black, though, partnering is more than offering space on the church's campus. It means working side by side (in and out of jail) with people like Arnold Abbott of Love Thy Neighbor, an interfaith nonpro—t organization that is on the forefront of helping the homeless in Broward County. With more than 10,000 homeless men, women and children, Love Thy Neighbor works to preserve the integrity of the individual as well as to help them help themselves. Black joins with other volunteers to provide meals for more than 1,400 homeless people per week. The Sanctuary Church even opened its doors to help train those in recovery through Love Thy Neighbor's culinary skills training program. Over the past two years, the program has had more than 400 graduates, helping the homeless get off the streets and back into society as pro- ductive, contributing members. The church is living out its mission as God's ongoing presence in the world, says Black. Passionate about relieving suffering and —ghting social injustice, and joining the God of the oppressed in living out the transforming message of the resur- rected Jesus, the church has teamed up with so many other groups that the list reads like a table of contents. Included among them is All Saints Soup Kitchen, Refuge Recovery, community outreach programs such as Abandoned Pet Rescue, Toys for Tots and the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, as well as a variety of educational programs and institu- tions: Delmar Arts Academy and Florida Singing Sons Boys' Choir, for example. Add to the list health services such as Life Line Screening, a preventive screening program, and OneBlood, a blood donation organiza- tion. At Thanksgiving, the congrega- tion collaborates with the sheriff's of—ce, delivering 4,500 turkeys to those in need. What's clear is that Black believes in a seamless gospel — where salva- tion and social justice go hand in hand. "The church is the best when it serves, sacri—ces and loves, caring about the things God cares about. We were created to live for something larger than ourselves," he said. That something "larger" was about to come. The vision Every day since his arrival in 2011, Black has faithfully walked around the church seven times and prayed. One day, as he walked and prayed, he had a vision transform the water- front campus into a residential, commercial and community center where multitudes would come. It would be called Sanctuary Village, incorporating affordable housing, an amphitheater, green spaces, retail

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