Still healing, Sanford braces for George Zimmerman’s trial

Excerpt from Larger article:

…Part of that strategy has been turning to the city’s spiritual leaders to defuse simmering racial tension and guide the city to reconciliation. With the start of the trial, they will add courtroom observer to their role. About a dozen pastors, part of a larger group of clergy, are working with the U.S. Department of Justice and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, and will attend the trial each day, then report back to their congregations and the public. The pastors, representing an ethnic and denominational cross-section of the area, will rotate among four reserved seats in the courtroom.

“We are going to be a witness, watch how the system works, watch the case unfold and share that,’’ says Rev. Charles Holt, of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in neighboring Lake Mary. “The role of the clergy in this case is to call on the community to be responsible in its response. This case and trial has the ability to divide.”…

…Holt said he is hopeful the public, from Sanford or elsewhere, will respect the verdict.

“This trial will either divide our community or bring us together,’’ Holt said. “We can let the demons rule or the better angels rule. We have to make the choice.’’

Read more here:


Sanford: The Untold Story

The black, hispanic and white pastors of Sanford continue to meet and build relationships and work on the racial issues. This video captures the spirit of some of the meetings that marked the beginning of that relationship in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. The emphasis is on prayer, reconciliation and peacemaking. This good work is continuing to go on even though the cameras have stopped rolling.

The local church and the Trayvon Martin situation

Dear all:

I would like to give you all a bit of an update on the Trayvon Martin situation here in the Diocese. I will not fill you in on the things that you get from the news but some of the things you may not know.

The first thing that I would say is that it is not helpful to engage in inflammatory rhetoric such as pre-judging the verdict of Mr. Zimmerman’s trial. The justice system in the US is human and imperfect. Yet it is the best the world has to offer. In this instance, it is working.

Much of the lesson of this case is about making pre-judgments before facts are known or processes have played out. As a church, we must do better than the world. Also, recognize that many of the leaders involved down here are our fellow Episcopal parishioners and part of our mission field. They do not need the larger church making their jobs more difficult by rash statements. This is a plea for us all to speak wisely.

The shooting took place at an apartment complex less than two miles from St. Peter’s (my congregation) and across the street from my daughter’s school. Several days ago a police car was parked on the school grounds as a deterrent. The next day it had been riddled with bullet holes.

Half the kids did not show up for school that day.

Fr. Rory Harris and I are the rectors of the two closest parishes and we are very much publically involved in the community especially in this issue. The first was in organizing an ecumenical Good Friday Prayer service for local ministers at Holy Cross Episcopal Sanford (read my sermon here). Over 60 clergy from a wide variety of denominations and ethnic/race groups were represented in the leading and participation. We took the entire situation to the foot of the cross.

The various clergy of Sanford and Seminole County are coming together in Holy Spirit appointed ways through this human tragedy. I will share with you a report that I wrote to the Bishop and clergy of Central Florida


Three significant clergy meetings were held in our area today (4/12/12) related to the Trayvon Martin case.

The first was at noon at Allen Chapel AME, Valerie Houston, Pastor. She was one of the preachers at the Good Friday clergy prayer gathering.

Many are referring to that church as “ground zero church” because that is where the initial public outcry began.

At this meeting the state special prosecutor, Angela Corey, and the newly assigned prosecuting attorney, and the Federal Justice Department community relations person, Mr. Battles, all presented and opened up for discussion with about 30 local pastors mostly from the local black churches. Dr. Raleigh Washington, president of Promise Keepers, was also present.

Corey revealed that she is a member at St. John Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville. They were all very open about their faith and called on the pastors to lead in the community and become the voice of the community rather than allow unauthorized spokespersons who may not represent the community well.

They spoke about the importance of patience, their passion for the victims of crimes and the need for justice for Mr. Martin and due process for Mr. Zimmerman. They asked for our prayers for ALL involved.

The second meeting was with Raleigh Washington and the black ministers of Sanford. I did not attend that meeting.

The third meeting at Charisma Media (formerly Strang Communications) in Lake Mary was very well attended, probably about 100 pastors and church leaders, 20 or so from Sanford. Some, but by no means all, of the black clergy that were at the other two meetings came to this as well.

Dr. Washington spoke from 2 Corinthians 5 about the need for the church to seize this opportunity to bring the ministry of radical reconciliation as ambassadors of Christ. He was great actually! Lots of other folks spoke and shared thoughts. One of the significant words came from Joel Hunter, Northland, that a leader from Sanford needed to be raised up.

Toward the end of the meeting a young black minister, Rev. Derek Gay, felt the call. He has been connected with some of the key meetings with leaders in the city and the Martin’s particularly the one about whether to release the 911 tapes. In a very moving moment Sam Hinn, pastor of the Gathering Place and yes Benny’s brother, knelt and committed to being Rev. Gay’s, Aaron. Then all of the other ministers from Sanford in the room stood with young Rev. Gay and pledged support and action.

Raleigh Washington sealed the moment in prayer as a divine commission and work. We all committed to stepping up and being the leaders for such a time as this.

Many spoke of the possibility that national renewal and revival might begin with Sanford Florida if the church will repent, pray and lead toward relationship. Relationship being the key word in Raleigh Washington’s challenge. It was also recognized by several that any renewal must have at its heart (and even must begin with) the youth.

Tomorrow there will be a press conference on the steps of Holy Cross Episcopal Church at 10 am. The entire event at Charisma Media was filmed. Reported Here and full press conference.

Personally, I believe the Lord is going to use this tragic moment to bring our community together in some very good and profound ways. He will be glorified in this, we have seen it. Certainly there is lots to pray about. Please pray for Sanford and the Lord’s leading and protection of the people of our community.

Charlie Holt

What shall I say about the Trayvon Martin shooting?

My daughter’s school bus passed by the apartments where Trayvon Martin was killed. She observed a crowd gathered with signs, she saw the flowers, pictures and crosses left at the gate. Later that day she asked me, “Is that for that boy, Trayvon, who was shot?”  As a local pastor, I asked myself whether I should get involved in the situation.  There is a side of me that wants to stay out of it.  But with my daughter’s question, it hit home. God has placed me in this community to be a witness to the Gospel.

When contemplating his looming death on the cross, Jesus faced the choice of whether to get involved in the mess of human sin and struggle when he asks, “What shall I say, Father save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28) Jesus could have remained uninvolved, but that is not what he came to do. Like him, we have a choice. What shall we say “Father save us from this mess, or is it for this very moment that we are called to be a light for Jesus in the very midst of community’s pain and struggle?

This morning, I participated in a Good Friday prayer service with over 60 Christian clergy from various denominational, racial and ethnic backgrounds to pray for the whole situation and our Sanford community.  Earlier in the week, I had sent an encouragement to other church leaders to attend the gathering and I received this criticism: “I am appalled that you would hijack this precious day [Good Friday] on behalf of a political, pandering and sad episode in our community.”

The “sad episode” certainly has been hijacked by political opportunists. When I see how the case is being handled and miss-handled in the media and by some national personalities and groups, I too get cynical. When I hear the commentary breaking along the same old political divisions, liberal and conservative, Republicans and Democrats, black and white, I cannot help to agree that there are those who are using a tragedy in our community as an opportunity to pander to a political agenda.  I think to myself, “What a mess! Satan is having a field day with all of this and with us.”

But does not this day, Good Friday, of ALL days speak into this sad, angry and tragic mess?

All of the worst aspects of human existence were present on the day Jesus was crucified: the mob “justice”, vigilantes, corruption in the governing authorities, political and financial opportunism, leaders “washing their hands” of responsibility, twisted media coverage, denials of truth, false witnesses, racial prejudice, criminals going free, wrongful prosecutions, the crucifixion of the King of kings. Yet it was God’s design to take the mess, the tragedy and the ugliness of our human sin and use it to bring redemption and salvation to the whole world.

“Jesus said, ’Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But when I am lifted up on the earth I will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” (John 12:31-33) In being lifted up on the cross, Jesus puts an end to Satan’s dividing and destroying of the people of God.

The occasion of Trayvon Martin’s tragic death can merely be an opportunity for the evil one to destroy our relationships and our community. But, the Lord would have us see it as an opportunity for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to shine. As Jesus is lifted on the Cross, people are redeemed, restored and drawn together. We, the people of the cross, are called to be the salt and light of our neighborhoods. We cannot accomplish that role if we hide the light of the Gospel in the moment when it is needed most. The cross is God’s answer to all human struggle and tragedy. He made the sad episode, a precious Good Friday. He will do the same in our day, if we will follow him in his way. Jesus is the redeemer of sinners and the lover of our souls.