December 15, 2015: Hundreds of Adventist congregations in the United States, maybe thousands, celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving with community outreach events last month. The largest such event may well have been at Mount Gilead Church in Bradenton, Florida. There were 1,300 people for dinner on Sunday, November 15, reported television Channel 9 and the Herald local newspaper.
“Some churches struggle to find their role in the community,” wrote Richard Dymond, a reporter for the newspaper. “Mount Gilead Seventh-day Adventist Church has no such identity crisis. … For the last decade or so, the church has dedicated itself to the needy who live around its building at 1803 13th Street West.”
The church is located in a Zip Code near downtown Bradenton where more than 13 percent of the work force is currently unemployed despite the fact that the national rate is now below ten percent. The median household income is $35,921 compared to the U.S. national average of $53,482. One in four residents has no access to health care and a third of the households with children under five years of age are below the poverty line.
The church operates a community food pantry throughout the year which distributes about 65 boxes of groceries each month, enough to feed 240 people. “Every one of the homeless have a story,” the newspaper quoted Naidine DeHere-Adams, director of the church’s Adventist Community Services (ACS) unit. About 50 of the people attending were homeless and each received a bag full of basic personal supplies.
“They could be any of us. I try to treat everyone I meet the way I would like to be treated,” DeHere-Adams was quoted. “Whatever the size of the bag [of groceries], I try to give it with love and give it with dignity.”
The reporter noted that church members addressed their neighbors at the dinner as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” DeHere-Adams told the reporter it was because “they are my brothers and I am my brother’s keeper,” echoing the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis.
The Thanksgiving menu included “chicken right out of a smoker grilled by Paul ‘BBQ Boss’ Hendricks of Palmetto” (Florida), bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, rice and beans, yams, string beans, mixed vegetables, rolls, garden salad, fruit and cake.
Pastor Pierre Francois thanked the volunteers, the guests from the community and “all who have come for some of the services we have to offer” before leading in prayer. “We love this community … and we pray God’s blessing on all of your families.”
Mount Gilead Church has 191 members with a Sabbath attendance of about one hundred each week. It is part of the denomination’s Southeastern Conference in the North American Division (NAD).