Updated: Adventist Churches in Orlando Respond to Mass Shooting
Updated June 16: June 14, 2016: Yesterday Forest Lake Adventist Church in the suburbs of Orlando (Florida) announced that it would provide for funerals for “any LGBT victims of the Pulse shooting.” Within hours the Forest City Spanish Adventist Church in the same area joined in the offer especially for Spanish-speaking families of victims.
The announcement from the church stated that the funeral services would be free to the families of victims and that the church would use its video and live-streaming capacities so that family and friends outside the Orlando area or who cannot get to the church could be in on the funeral services. It is not clear if the Spanish church has the same technical capacities, but the Spanish-language announcement also stated that the funerals would be free of charge to the families.
In the first 19 hours after the announcement was placed on the Forest Lake Church Facebook page, a total of 20,795 people shared the announcement with other Web media and 824 wrote comments. “Amen,” wrote Jainie Pita, for example. “The Jesus I love in action. His hands and feet. We are all his children.” Adventists from as far away as Tennessee posted offers to drive to Orlando and help with funerals as volunteers.
“LGBT” refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. This raises issues for many Adventists as it does for other conservative religious believers, and there are indications that related issues may have been in the mind of the shooter in the tragic situation this week in Orlando. The leaders of these Adventist congregations have clearly made a decision to set aside such issues and reach out with compassion to the families and friends of the victims.
Forest Lake Church is one of the largest Adventist congregations in the United States with nearly 4,000 members and at least another thousand children and spouses who are not baptized members. It is located next door to Forest Lake Academy, the secondary school operated by the denomination’s Florida Conference.
Forest City Spanish Church is one of the largest Spanish-language congregations in the Florida Conference with more than 1,500 members and about another 500 children and family members who are not baptized members. It is located about two miles south of the Forest Lake campus in the same cluster of suburbs north of downtown Orlando.
Pastor Geoff Patterson is the senior pastor at Forest Lake Church. He has been pastor of the Marietta Church in the suburbs of Atlanta and led congregations in the Virginia suburbs south of Washington DC. He also served the denomination as communication director for Adventist World Radio based at the General Conference office. He has nine associate pastors at Forest Lake, three of which are women.
Pastor Vicmael Arroyo is the senior clergy at Forest City Spanish Church which recently bought the campus of a well-known Evangelical megachurch that closed down, as Adventist Today has previously reported. He was senior pastor at the West Palm Beach (Florida) Spanish Adventist Church until last year. He has three associate pastors, one of which is a woman.
Update: The Florida Conference has announced that three more congregations in the Orlando area have joined in the same offer to the family and friends of victims. These include Florida Hospital Church with a thousand members and Orlando Central Adventist Church with about 400 members, both located in the central part of the city near where the mass shooting occurred. Also the Altamonte Springs Adventist Church with more than 600 members and located in the same suburban area north of the city as the first two churches. Pastor Andy McDonald is the senior pastor at Florida Hospital Church with three associates. Pastor Cleber P. M. Machado leads the Orlando Central congregation and Pastor Dan Schiffbauer, Jr., the Altamonte Springs congregation.
A photo of the Forest Lake Church is featured with this story. It is from the North American Division data base of local churches maintained by the eAdventist system.