Fla. church finding a way forward after school shooting

PARKLAND, Fla. (BP) -- As church families gathered around the nation on Sunday (Feb. 18), many congregations prayed for those affected by the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last week.

Anyone involved in law enforcement in the Coral Springs/Broward County (Fla.) area was invited to the stage during the Sunday morning service at Church by the Glades Feb. 18. Pastor David Hughes, far right, said "we need to always respect you for what you do."
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Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, had asked that Southern Baptists take time during worship to pray for the families impacted by the tragedy that took the lives of 17 staff and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

"Our prayer is for God to grant comfort, mercy, and peace to these families," he said.

And that's exactly what appeared to happen at Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, located about 10 minutes away from the school. The congregation has been particularly hard hit by the tragedy.

Abe Matos, who serves as student pastor there, said Sunday's worship service was powerful. "Something powerful happens when we don't know why something occurred but we worship anyway," he said.

Matos estimates that hundreds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students attend Church by the Glades. Five members of his congregation were either injured or killed in the attack.

As victims' names were released, the leadership at the church wasted no time making phone calls and hospital visits to anyone connected to their congregation. Matos said staff leaders are showing up to any public event in their immediate area connected to the shootings. They are also trying to attend every viewing, whether or not they knew the victim personally. In doing so, they hope to not only minister to a grieving family, but also other grieving students.

David Hughes, pastor of Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Fla., wore a Stoneman Douglas High School hoodie during his Sunday sermon Feb. 20. The congregation saw five members either killed or injured in a Feb. 14 shooting at the nearby school. Hughes encouraged members to focus on "who" rather than "why" in times of tragedy.
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"It doesn't matter if they're Jewish or Mormon," Matos said. "We're showing up everywhere and anywhere in hopes of recognizing someone and ministering to them right then and there."

Billy Young, Next Generation Ministries Catalyst for the Florida convention, said being there to love and listen is the most important thing they can do for students after a tragedy.

In the coming days, as students continue to process the shooting and the losses they've suffered, Matos wants students to know that Church by the Glades is a safe place for them to gather with classmates and friends to mourn and support each other. He hopes students will see it as a part of their personal healing.

"If that's the only coping mechanism we give them -- that when something bad happens, you run to God's house -- we have equipped them for a lifetime," he said.

Nicole Kalil writes for the Florida Baptist Convention.
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