As a teenager growing up in Liberty City, it was a given that on Sunday mornings I went to church. Sometime, that meant “playing hooky” from my own church to attend the services at Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church, and hearing a soul-stirring message from the late Rev. N.J. Byrd.
Those were good times in the church at 1701 NW 66th St. There was no air conditioning in the church back then, and if you arrived late, the sound of the choir singing the great worship hymns of Zion, which seemed to float out the windows on the soft breezes, would put a little speed and spring in your step.
Since my teenage years, I have visited the great, white church on the corner of Northwest 17th Avenue and 66th Street on many occasions, and I have fond memories of my time spent in its sanctuary. But there is a time for all things, and now it is time for the Rev. Dr. George McRae and the Mount Tabor congregation to move on to another home.
So, on July 27, the church that has been a pillar in the Liberty City community for over 90 years will move to its new home at 105 NW Seventh Ave.
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“We are deeply grateful to God to have been blessed to move to another location,” said McRae. “We pray that God will bless us in our new home, as He did for so many years in Liberty City.”
McRae said that although the church’s presence will be gone from Liberty City, “. . . we will still minister to the needs of the people there, and also in our new home.” He added that Mount Tabor has established 12 specific ministries, including HIV/AIDS; Substance Abuse; Prison, and Street ministries.
According to longtime member Juanita Lane, Mount Tabor was born when a “small group of citizens from South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and North Central Florida” who had settled in Miami’s Lemon City gathered for religious meetings led by the Rev. B.F. Goodwin.
“Because there were no churches or schools for African Americans in Lemon City, the group met in the home of Elijah H. Boles,” Lane said. “And in February of 1901, at Boles’ home, the church was organized and named Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Goodwin was named its first pastor.”
Ten other pastors would follow Goodwin: the Revs. A.J. Thomas; N.B. Williams; C.T. Brown; J.S.P. Watson; J.T. Merritt; R.E. Edwards; J.N. Byrd; Purdy S. Brown; James Hendon; and McRae, who was called to the church in 1989.
Although the Liberty City church was in the heart of an area where drug-dealing, prostitution and other crimes were rampant, its congregation includes several community leaders, including educators, business owners and politicians.
Lane said the ills of the surrounding area proved to be a challenge for McRae, whose vision was for the church to reach out to the ailing community with a healing hand. Today, because of his vision, several of the church’s members are recovering addicts.
“With his biblical insight, perseverance, education and administrative skills, Rev. McRae began to challenge the congregants to do what God had called the church to do,” Lane said. “He said, ‘If the church is to survive, we have to find a way to embrace people outside of the faith.’ He instructed the members to believe in what Jesus said about the church — hence, the establishment of the ministries to meet the needs of the community.”
Former Congresswoman Carrie Meek, also a longtime member of the church said, “Going into the new church is a new beginning that God has allowed us the privilege to experience. It is a blessed experience, but it also means that each of us must work even harder to make our church succeed. We should feel even more blessed because of the gift that God has given us.”
McRae said a consecration service will be held July 27, the day the congregation moves to its new home. A week-long dedicatory service will follow at a date to be announced in October, he said.
Mount Tabor celebrations and services will be open to all.
ISRAELI CONSUL TO SPEAK
The community is invited to hear Chaim Shacham, Israeli consul general for Florida and Puerto Rico, who will speak at the Kabbalat Shabbat service at 6:15 p.m. Friday at Temple Sinai of North Dade, 18801 NE 22nd Ave.
Shacham will address the current situation in Israel and commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attack on the Argentina Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires.
Call the temple at 305-932-9010 for more information.
Buddhist nun Kelsang Deshe will teach a course entitled “Preparing for Meditation and Getting Started: Shrines, Offerings, and Sitting” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Drolma Kadampa Buddhist Center Miami, 1273 Coral Way. The cost is $25 per person.
Kelsang Deshe will discuss fundamental elements that can help people develop a successful meditation practice, by creating a focus for the faith by setting up a simple shrine, thereby making the environment blessed, according to the course announcement. The course will also teach the traditional elements of a Buddhist shrine, how to make offering, the correct meditation posture and how to get started with basic meditation techniques.