CFEONLINE News from the Diocese of Central Florida
All Saints’ Outreach Makes Impact in Tough Lakeland NeighborhoodNovember 20, 2017 • Jeff Gardenour  • DIOCESAN FAMILY • REACHING OUT

When a newly ordained deacon and a couple of outreach committees formed a partnership, they embraced a neighborhood with open arms and helping hands.

The coordinated effort was so successful that All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Lakeland will soon adopt a nearby community with plenty of momentum and enthusiasm.

On Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to noon, an All Saints’ contingent participated in a Soul in the City “Family Edition” event in the Crystal Grove area of Lakeland. There, approximately 250 people, including 90 from All Saints’, participated in a massive cleanup/feeding ministry/evangelistic effort.

“All ages showed up, from babies in strollers to parishioners in their 80s,” said All Saints’ deacon Bob Johnson. “What was done was cleaning of yards and streets, mowing, trimming trees, trimming hedges, picking up all kinds of debris, tires, furniture and so forth. We also knocked on doors and talked with the residents, offering them food bags, flowers and prayer.

“We invited them to the park to enjoy the festivities, music, flag football, hot dogs, chips and a drink,” Johnson said. “Skits were put on to entertain the young kids. A day of celebration for the community as well as a remembrance of Officer (Arnulfo) Crispen.”

Crispen was gunned down by a youth as part of gang activity in the Crystal Grove area in 2011, Johnson said. It was a crime that is still remembered by those in the area, and one that spurred folks to provide evangelism and more to residents.

Evangelism is one of the top principles of Soul in the City missionary work at All Saints’. The Soul in the City “Family Edition” is a spinoff from “Home Grown Mission Week” that started several years ago to get youth working actively in the community.

Soul in the City’s work in the Cypress Grove neighborhood was actually the third of three City of Lakeland-sponsored events in which outreach committees do work in different parts of the city. Turnout has increased each time, with three participants at the first event and 28 at the second after organizers constructed a little public relations. “It was a tremendous hit, and excitement was high going into the third one, and we got 90 people (from All Saints’) out into the community,” Johnson said.

All Saints’ began a concerted foray into outreach projects after Johnson was ordained as a deacon in September 2016. “Throughout my diaconate process, my focus has been outreach, but getting a full head of steam was impossible until my ordination,” he said. “After ordination, we restructured the outreach committee. We conducted a full evaluation of our charities, and developed a mission statement and purpose to focus on reaching out into the Lakeland community. Along with this, I became a chaplain with the Lakeland Police Department. During the last year, the City of Lakeland has put together a task force to address the issues of gang violence and activities. I was appointed to that committee for the Lakeland Police Department.”

From his ties with the Lakeland Police Department, Johnson learned about the City of Lakeland’s work with a facility called “The Dream Center,” an organization that provides outreach into the poorest neighborhoods in Lakeland. “They provide all kinds of services to the community, such as lawnmowers that residents can borrow to mow their yard – also Weed Eaters and other lawn equipment,” Johnson said. “They also provide after-school programs for the youth of the area. It was through all the previous work of a gentleman named Mike Cooper and the sponsorship of Victory Church in Lakeland that ‘The Dream Center’ got its existence.”

Since “The Dream Center” was part of the Gang Task Force as well, Cooper and Johnson discussed forming a cooperative effort with All Saints’. Consequently, All Saints’, the Gang Task Force, the City of Lakeland, “The Dream Center,” Victory Church and Free Life Chapel joined to do a massive cleanup/evangelistic effort in Cypress Grove.

“The way I look at it is, the wheel was a pretty good thing; why reinvent it? Working together to make our community better and spread the gospel, it doesn’t get better than that,” Johnson said.

The cooperative effort helped the Soul in the City “Family Edition” day go quite well. “The Dream Center” coordinated the materials for the event, while All Saints’ was responsible for the food bags, sorting the food and distributing among the neighbors, Johnson said. “Each parishioner had several bags in tow and made several trips. Several hundred doors were knocked on and the gospel shared with each and every one of them, as well as the food. The other churches handled the yard work,” he said.

The event went so well that participants showed an interest in doing another outreach. So, All Saints’ partnered with “The Dream Center” again and developed a plan for the church’s outreach group to adopt a community nearby called the Lake Wire area, which is currently beset by prostitution and drug activity, Johnson said.

“We are going to fund two outreaches into the area, in March and September of next year,” Johnson said, “as well as work with ‘The Dream Center’ to provide regular resources from All Saints’ into this area. We already have people interested in tutoring and mentoring the youth in the area. We will also invest smaller groups into helping with yard work, house repairs, etc. We will work with the Lakeland Police Department to be a presence in the area to discourage the prostitution and drug activity. It won’t be just two days a year. We are part of the community and will be there when and where they need us.”

To inquire about helping with All Saints’ outreach effort, call Johnson at 863-207-1726.

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