In unprecedented year, Black pastors carry extra burden

By Desiree Stennett, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Religious News

The Sunday that Gray was invited to preach was The Experience Christian Center's third back to in-person services, said Derrick McRae, bishop-elect at the church.

Despite the church closures, McRae said he, too, has been busier than ever. As each new crisis has emerged throughout this year, McRae and other church leaders have had to find ways to respond.

In a normal year, the church organizes several food giveaways, usually tied to major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In March, when the economy shut down, leaving thousands without money to buy food, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida along with other food banks nationwide reported a massive spike in need.

McRae's church quickly stepped in to help feed the community. For nearly 40 days straight, the church held daily food giveaways.

"We were getting food from all over the state and we were loading it up and going to different communities and just having food giveaways," said Marlin Daniels, chief development officer for The Experience Christian Center. "People that didn't even know the church existed started showing up. ... It was supposed to last for 200 to 250 families and we were going through it within an hour."


More recently, the church partnered with Foot Locker to provide shoes for families in Parramore as its leadership readies for larger food giveaways ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"They still need to know there is hope in the community," Daniels said of the residents benefiting from the work of the church. "That's what the church is for. The church is a place not only for the spirituality but also for the physical being as well. We can't preach the gospel and talk about the love of God and not reach them tangibly with food and clothes."

Pastor: Advocacy can produce change

After protests sparked by the May death of George Floyd, who pleaded for air for nearly 9 minutes while since-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to Floyd's neck, pastors all over the Central Florida region met with city leaders, sheriffs and police chiefs. They called for community peace and joined activists in the streets.


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