January 29, 2013
Amanda Duncan tried to corral her lively 20-month-old daughter, Emily, as they waited their turn for groceries at the Cook’s Hat Food Ministry at Tampa’s Seminole Heights Baptist Church—even as the little one squealed with delight each time she escaped her mother’s clutches.
The mother of five works 48 hours a week at a gas station for minimum wage, yet there never seems to be enough money since her husband was laid off from his job. “Any minor inconvenience, like the car breaking down, seems to set us back for several months,” she said.
The groceries she received from the church will go far in getting her beyond this crisis, Duncan hopefully explained.
Each person who accepts groceries from the Cook’s Hat pantry also receives counseling, prayer and the plan of salvation. Opened twice each week, the ministry, under the umbrella of “Mission Tampa” provides Christian compassion in meeting physical and spiritual needs.
Duncan is the recipient of a generous legacy given to the church by long-time member Joan Stokes who left nearly $90,000 in her will earmarked for missions. It came right at the time when the congregation voted to increase their missions giving, despite having budget shortfalls.
“Joan’s gift was in God’s perfect timing. It opened the door for God to prove to our church that He will provide when we step out on faith,” said Pastor Greg Floyd. “She was a faithful giver in life and a faithful giver in death.”
Always the encourager, Stokes had helped the church start Mission Tampa, a non-profit arm of the church designed to meet community needs, and often purchased groceries for the food pantry.
A few years before Stokes’ death, Brenda McCollum, strategist for Florida Baptists’ Strategic Endowed Giving Team, spoke to the congregation about leaving a legacy for Christian causes. Stokes responded by having the financial provision for the church included in her will. Calling McCollum a “Godsend,” Floyd reported other church members have followed Stokes’ example.
Although any “unbeliever” can leave a legacy, Floyd said, “Christians leave a legacy that honors Christ and glorifies his name first and foremost. To leave a Christian legacy means we have lived and loved and died in a way that reflects we loved Christ and His church above everyone and everything else.”
Stokes’ gift exemplifies the legacy of Christ’s compassion that Seminole Heights is giving to its community. Once a thriving middle class neighborhood located off Interstate 275 just north of downtown Tampa, when Greg Floyd arrived in 1995 as pastor of the church the area had been in decline for decades.
Many Tampa residents were afraid to attend the church because of the area’s unsafe reputation. Drug dealers and prostitutes transacted business on church property. Arrests, shootings and police stings in the parking lot were common events.
The church known for its tall white steeple visible high above the highway had a budget and membership Floyd called “unrealistic. We were unable to pay our bills and had no extra money for building upkeep, ministry or missions. I soon discovered that my idea of turning the church around was a lot more difficult and costly than I first thought,” he said.
Not long after he arrived, the congregation was approached by a hotel chain to sell the property at a price that would enable the church to build better facilities in a more desirable area of the city with a million dollars in reserve. But church leaders would not entertain the thought of a move.
Floyd and his wife, Martha “prayed and fasted and then we both committed we would stay and do whatever it takes for this church to be used by God and bloom where He has planted us,” he said.
“Now 17 years later we are still here and I am convinced that the best and most exciting days for our church are ahead of us,” the pastor said
When the church began reaching out and “getting into the lives of the less fortunate in our neighborhoods is when all of us at the church realized how deep and vast the needs were close to our church and how little was being done in the name of Christ to reach them and help them transform their lives,” Floyd said.
Among the church ministries that benefited from Stokes’ legacy: the Cook’s Hat food ministry each Monday and Thursday; Missions Smiles mobile dental ministry that treats the needy at local churches; a church plant—one of 11 launched during the pastor’s tenure; and Grace Martial Arts Fellowship, a ministry that reaches neighborhood children and teaches self defense, a respect for God and Scripture memorization.
Other ministries include “Oasis,” a free meal every Friday night when 40-70 homeless walk to the church for dinner. Others who attend may have a roof over their heads, but come for a hot meal. “I have had people tell me it was the only hot balanced meal they had all week,” the pastor recalled.
To better serve the spiritual and physical needs of people, the church created Mission Tampa as a separate entity about 12 years ago to engage more Tampa churches in its community outreach. As a result, about 20 churches, including the Tampa Bay Baptist Association, partner with Mission Tampa providing both funding and volunteers.
Floyd said before Mission Tampa, few of the Seminole Heights members were involved in local missions. But now the majority actively participates in at least one mission effort outside the church walls.
“I want the next generation to see our church as a congregation that sacrificially gave for the Kingdom,” said Floyd. “A church that cared more about others than it cared for meeting our own needs.”