Community Voices

Neighbors in Religion: Friend Sunday can help turn buddies into lifelong churchgoers

The second annual Friend Sunday will be March 1 and churches throughout the United States, including dozens in South Florida, will participate.

When I first heard about Friend Sunday, my mind went back to my childhood days, when Sunday school and Sunday morning worship were where you met friends for life.

Back then there was no need for an organized movement to get folks out to church — not black folks. As a child, there weren’t too many places outside our neighborhoods where blacks were welcome. Attending church good for the soul, a place where you could find salvation. It was also where on Sunday mornings you found wonderful worship and fellowship, and in the evenings you could enjoy the music of some great quartets, slapping their thighs and harmonizing the gospel songs they’d practiced in their kitchens after dinner the week before.

I credit the fact that I have been a churchgoer all my life with meeting some of my best and life-long friends. One of them is Mae Stevens Whitman. We met on the playground at recess when we were in elementary school. (Her name is really Willie Mae. She dropped the Willie when she was grown).

We were in the sixth grade, but not in the same class. Our classroom teachers shared the same recess time. Our friendship started with a simple invitation from Mae to go with her to Sunday school the following week.

Because I had always enjoyed church, I couldn’t wait to ask my mom if I could go with Mae to New Hope Baptist Church in Liberty City, which at that time was on Northwest 15th Avenue and 66th Street. Mom said yes, but I had to take my younger brother Adam along.

No problem there. Mom worked at a hospital in Miami Beach and she often worked Sundays. She always left our church offering (usually, 10 or 15 cents apiece) and a little extra to buy an ice cream cone after church at the corner drugstore.

I attended Sunday school with my new friend and enjoyed it so much that I stayed for the 11 a.m. worship service. I was so touched with Rev. James Brown’s sermon that day, that on the very next visit, I joined the church. To be honest, I think what touched me most was the children’s choir, where youngsters my age sang to the hand-clapping and foot-stomping beat of the congregation, while Shirley Brown (the pastor’s daughter) banged away at the upright piano.

Now 66 years later, Mae and I are still the best of friends. I credit her simple invitation — “Will you go to Sunday school with me next Sunday?” with our enduring friendship.

Now back to Friend Sunday. The Friend Church initiative was developed by Outreach, Inc., a leader in providing church communications resources, to equip churches of all sizes and denominations in providing their members with the perfect opportunity to invite a friend.

According to Scott Evans, founder and CEO of Outreach, “The latest Barna research shows that 43 percent of Americans are now unchurched, and another 8 percent attend sporadically. We want to help churches continue to reach their communities by hosting a special Sunday that lets people know they are welcome in church.”

An Outreach survey showed that last year 90 percent of churches participating helped to motivate people to invite friends and family. The participating churches experienced an average 35 percent attendance increase on that day, which helped churches to build on the rest of the year.

Church leaders who are interested in participating in Friend Sunday should go to www.friendsunday.com to sign up and to let individuals know where they can find a welcoming church in their area that is participating. There are also resources for churches on the website that includes a new 2015 kit to help churches plan a more effective outreach; new videos; and invitational tools.

While a church kit with helpful information sound great, and I am sure, will work, the one thing that worked for me was a simple invitation from my life-long friend Mae: “Will you come with me to Sunday school on Sunday?”

Thank you Mae, for helping me on the start of my journey with the Lord.

Baha’is to screen ‘To Light a Candle’ film Sunday

The Baha’is of Miami Dade invites the community to a special screening of the movie To Light a Candle at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Miami Baha’i Center, 9300 S. Dixie Hwy., Suite 209.

The film tells the story of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran and is produced by Canadian filmmaker Maziar Behari. Behari is not a member of the Baha’i faith, but was attracted to the topic while making Rosewater with Jon Stewart.

To Light a Candle chronicles the lives of Iran’s Baha’is, who through their commitment to spreading knowledge have established the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education to strengthen its community and combat persecution. The film is directed by Behari, who is an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker.

Showing the film is a part of a global effort to draw attention to the Iranian government’s denial of the right to higher education for any member of the Baha’i Faith, that country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority.

Following the film, there will be a panel discussion and light refreshments will be served. It’s free. For more information call 786-472-2240.

Installation service March 1 at Plymouth Congregational Church

Last week, we welcomed the Rev. Alvin W. Bunis Jr. to our community when he was named the new pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove.

The congregation invites the community to Bunis’ installation service at 4 p.m. March 1. Everyone is welcome at the sacred service.

For more information, email Liz Miller at liz@plymouthmiami.org.

Beth David yard and rummage sale on Sunday

Beth David Congregation at 2625 SW Third Ave. will have a yard and rummage sale from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday to benefit the synagogue and Gordon Schools.

Items for sale will include books, clothing, household goods, and toys for men, women and children. There will also be specialty and collector items for sale that will include designer shoes, Fiesta dishware, a Lladro figurine and vintage embroidered napkins and table cloths.

Call 305-854-3911 or go to www.bethdavidmiami.org for more information.

Limmud Miami Jewish extravaganza on Sunday

Limmud Miami, a Jewish extravaganza — part conference, part festival and part summer camp for adults, kids and the entire family — will take place 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Kovens Conference Center at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus, 3000 NE 151st St. in North Miami.

This is the second year for the event which will include stand-up comics, parenting workshops, wine tastings and learning sessions to range from biblical text study to a Jewish-Hindu encounter.

According to a news release, the word Limmud means learning in Hebrew, and originated in the United Kingdom in 1981 as an alternative to a Jewish educators’ conference. Today, the event is celebrated in nearly 90 locations in more than 40 countries around the world.

The cost of the day-long event is $36 for adults who pre-register; $45 at the door; $18 for students and young adults, 18-25, and free for children 3-17. For more information, to register, for volunteer opportunities and a complete schedule of programs, visit www.limmdmiami.org or email info@limmudmiami.org.

Ash Wednesday begins Lenten season

Trinity Cathedral began its Lenten season on Ash Wednesday by providing “Ashes to Go” at the Government Center, Miami Dade College and Margaret Pace Park. The gesture was not intended as a replacement for an Ash Wednesday service, said Grey Maggiano of Trinity.

Rather, he said, “it was a time for busy people to reconnect with their faith on one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar, and also an important opportunity to engage with folks who may have questions about their faith in a less than threatening manner.”

Lent, which starts Thursday is the beginning of the 40 days before Easter and has traditionally been a time of preparation through prayer, study and repentance.

Trinity Cathedral will celebrate the season with several worship services, including Joint Lenten Services, which celebrates the “proud community of black Episcopalians in the Greater Miami Area.” The joint services will bring together people in various churches throughout Lent and will feature a variety of guest preachers.

The joint services will begin 5 p.m. Sunday at the Church of the Incarnation, 1835 NW 54th St.

Other joint services will be: March 1 at Christ Church, 3481 Hibiscus St. in Coconut Grove; March 8 at Trinity Cathedral, 464 NE 16th St. in downtown Miami; March 15 at Church of the Holy Family, 18501 NW Seventh Ave. in Miami Gardens; and on March 22 at the Historic St. Agnes Church, 1750 NW Third Ave. in Overtown.

Also, Blue Week, with conversations on “Faith, Climate and Sea Level Rise,” begins 6 p.m. Feb. 24 at Trinity Cathedral.

On Feb. 25, the event will be at 8:30 a.m. at Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves. The topic: “The Green Below the Blue.” Space is limited. Contact assistant@trinitymiami.org to reserve a spot.

Blue Week continues at 6 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Florida International University Biscayne Campus in WUC 221. The event will include dinner and a presentation by Mary Evelyn Tucker at 7 p.m. Tucker’s topic: “The Alliance of Science and Religion.”

The final presentation of Blue Week will be a Blue Mass at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Trinity Cathedral, and will be centered on the environment. Youth from throughout South Florida are invited to participate and learn more about how their faith and the environment intersect.

The community is invited to all worship services and events.

Send all items at least two weeks in advance to Religion Notes, c/o Neighbors, 2000 NW 150th Ave., Suite 1105, Pembroke Pines, FL 33028, fax it to 954-538-7018 or email bea.hines@gmail.com. Pictures are accepted but cannot be returned.

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