'Thank You NYPD,' Staten Island church declares

Ray Parascando (center), pastor of Crossroads Church, honors NYPD Detective Manuel Sepulveda for his work in gathering intelligence on numerous crimes. New York City Council member Steven Matteo (right) joins in the Police Appreciation Day ceremony at the Staten Island church.
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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (BP) -- Crossroads Church pastor Ray Parascando didn't like the unfolding narrative of those who were maligning police officers in New York City and across the nation in rallies, marches and even riots.

The revolt against law enforcement was casting all officers as bad people.

"It's one thing to have people boo you, another to have people chant 'death to cops,'" Parascando said. "Our culture is heading down a wrong road. I think we're facing a moral cliff that is disastrous."

The community and police officers needed an antidote to the spewing of negativity, so Parascando and Crossroads sponsored a Police Appreciation Day on Wednesday, Nov. 4.

What began as an event sponsored by the congregation of 300 mushroomed to include the community and even received a proclamation from Staten Island Borough President James Oddo.

"Thankfulness raises all boats in the harbor," the pastor said.

Crossroads Church’s Police Appreciation Day prompted Staten Island Borough President James Oddo to issue a proclamation making it a community-wide event.
 
Since planting Crossroads in September 2001, Parascando has led the Southern Baptist congregation to be proactive in meeting community needs.

"We have a pulse on our community in terms of what needs to happen," said Parascando, who grew up on Staten Island, home to one of the nation's largest concentrations of Italian-Americans.

Parascando meets regularly with community leaders to get their perspective on current needs. "There are legitimate needs," he noted, "and we represent the one with legitimate answers."

On Police Appreciation Day, Crossroads and the community fed Staten Island NYPD officers from morning until the last midnight shift "like an Italian Sunday dinner." Local restaurants cooked and donated most of the food, valued at around $8,000.

As they learned about officers who had done outstanding work, Crossroads recognized them in a mid-afternoon "Thank You NYPD" awards ceremony. One had saved a drowning baby and another had helped a kid with cancer. No one had told their stories.

Children from Crossroads' Sunday School and local schools made scores of cards for the officers, which they received that day.

For officers on midnight duty, food was transported to the NYPD's four Staten Island precincts, and Parascando went to the one nearest the church for roll call. He again personally thanked the officers and then prayed for them.

"It was powerful to pray over these guys," Parascando said.

Long-term community engagement

Police Appreciation Day was not an anomaly for Parascando who has frequently engaged in public affairs. He strongly opposed former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's edict to disallow churches the use of local schools. Crossroads was meeting in one at the time.

The irony of Crossroads' expulsion from their meeting place was that the church regularly volunteered to paint cash-strapped New York City public schools in the summers, an initiative started in the Bronx shortly after 9/11 by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA).

By 2006, New Hope New York, the Strategic Focus City initiative of NAMB, MNYBA and the Baptist Convention of New York sponsored "Paint the Town" and mobilized volunteers from throughout the U.S. to paint New York City public schools. Crossroads has continued these projects with some assistance from NAMB since 2007 in all five of New York City's boroughs.

At the time of Bloomberg's directive, Crossroads was the only church renting a school on Staten Island. When local media asked if the church would continue painting schools after their eviction, the answer was yes. The church gladly painted the schools because they loved the people in those schools.

Today, Crossroads rents a theater for its services.

Just before Hurricane Sandy barreled up the East Coast in 2012, Staten Island had a rash of "train jumpers," people who were committing suicide. Crossroads started counseling services to address the crisis that subsequently dovetailed into Hurricane Sandy response counseling.

During Hurricane Sandy recovery, the church sponsored a community "Night of Hope" on Oct. 30, 2013, hosting 174 first-time guests.

Mickey Caison, interim executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, has worked extensively with Parascando since Hurricane Sandy.

"Being a native of New York City, he understood the families and helped them deal with their needs quickly," Caison said. "He has a heart of compassion and worked hard to make sure Crossroads provided care for the community."

Parascando calls Staten Island a salad bowl of nationalities and cultures. Planting churches there has been challenging due to what he describes as "spiritual oppression and darkness" including drug abuse.

"We're constantly praying against evil on our island," Parascando said.

People who come to Crossroads know that the church is going to "throw the ball down the field. We want to score. We do things like this all the time," he said. Next year, they want to expand the Police Appreciation Day to all five boroughs.

"We didn't just want to be another church in the phone book," Parascando said. "We wanted to model the Great Commission."

Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist living in Atlanta.
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