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.

A call for prayer and thoughtfulness in the Trayvon Martin situation

I would like to ask your prayers for our Sanford/ Lake Mary community. Many of us have been watching and reading the media coverage of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. It is a needless tragedy and a bad situation from the start which appears to have been poorly handled. Our prayers need to go out to the Martin family in their grief over the loss of their young son. We also need to pray for George Zimmerman.  Again, please pray for our neighbors and fellow parishioners, the people of Sanford.

The presence of national personalities within our community assures a national media circus. Unfortunately, both the media and the various national personalities often feed on incidents like this to promote themselves. Bad press sells.  We are likely to bear their presence for some time.

Although such media attention can cause a certain jadedness just coming off the Casey Anthony saga, we must remain mindful that real people are involved and that these are our neighbors. We need to see this occasion as an opportunity to show a more excellent way, the way of truth and love—may our better angels reveal themselves. Guard your hearts and your tongues, be thoughtful, charitable and mindful of God’s presence in your actions and speech. Prayerfully examine your prejudices and your judgments by putting yourself in the other’s shoes.  Pray that justice and peace will prevail as the governing authorities discern the correct response.

As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we must be mindful of the larger context of human sin and failings and God’s mighty acts to redeem us. It was by a perversion of justice that our Lord was crucified for our transgressions. All of the worst aspects of human existence were present that Holy Week: the mob “justice”, the vigilantes, corrupt policing, political opportunism, twisted media coverage, denial of truth, false witnesses and injustice, criminals going free, wrongful prosecutions, the crucifixion of the rightful King. Yet it was God’s design to take the mess and ugliness of our human condition and use it to bring redemption and salvation to the world. He made the day of the Cross, a Good Friday. He is the redeemer of sinners and the lover of souls.

Below my signature is a thoughtful and informative letter from Fr. Rory Harris, the rector of Holy Cross Sanford which was shared with the diocesan leadership today.

I am faithfully yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Charlie Holt+, Rector, St. Peter’s Lake Mary


From: Rory Harris

Date: Thursday, March 22, 2012 1:26 PM

Subject: Trayvon Martin Rallies

“Justice should be blind, but is never deaf or unable to speak” Fr. Rory HB Harris +

Several of our diocesan clergy have expressed concern and interest in the emerging Trayvon Martin death and shooting that has engendered a call for justice across our nation.

Please pray for the City and community of Sanford as we attempt to seek justice while maintaining a peace that honors this young man’s life, and moves our community to wholeness and healing.

There are two rallies planned for those who want to express their concerns over how the matter of Trayvon Martin has been handled after his shooting death by George Zimmerman on February 26th.

Tonight, March 22nd, Thursday at 7 p.m. the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose mother died this morning (R.I.P.) will conduct a rally at the Fort Mellon Park on East 1st Street (Rte. 46) with some 2,000 to 20,000 expected to attend. There is some concern that this rally may get out of hand (a word of caution). The rally was originally scheduled to be at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Elm Street but has just recently been moved to Fort Mellon Park.

The main rally will be on Monday, March 26th at 4 p.m. at the Sanford Civic Center off Commerce Street and Sanford Avenue – 1 block north of 1st Street – Rte. 46. The Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are expected to lead the rally prior to the City of Sanford’s City Commissioner meeting at 5 p.m. I plan to attend this rally as a member of the Sanford Ministers Fellowship, and as Vice Chair of Seminole Action Coalition Serving Our Needy (S.A.C.S.O.N.), a faith based community working on issues surrounding homelessness and the needy.

I will have part of our parish parking lot allotted for parking for Monday’s rally. Our lot is at 4th Street and South Park Avenue (400).

This issue has become a national issue over the conduct of Sanford’s police department in not arresting George Zimmerman who was the Home Owners’ Association head, who apparently stalked Trayvon Martin after being told by a 911 operator not to follow him, that the police were being dispatched and would handle this.

Zimmerman continued to follow Martin who was entering the gated apartment complex where he was staying with his father and his father’s fiance. He had just come back from a 7-11 with a box of Skittles and a soda, when Zimmerman started following him in his truck and eventually got out of his truck and ostensibly forced a confrontation that led to Zimmerman feeling threatened for his life and shooting and killing the 17 year old Trayvon Martin (this is Zimmerman’s side of the story).

Since the incident on Feb. 26th, the Police Department released the 911 call from Zimmerman which shows he was asked not to follow Trayvon Martin, and his family obtained records which clearly show that Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend back in Miami (where his mother lives) and that he was afraid that someone was following him, and was advised by his girlfriend to run away.

The issues surrounding this tragic event relate to the actions of the Sanford Police who arrived on the scene after the shooting. The officers did not arrest or take Zimmerman into custody, nor did they confiscate his weapon (a Kel Tec 9 mm semi-automatic handgun), nor test Zimmerman for alcohol or blood test for drugs, nor run a back ground check on his criminal record. They took his story that he was attacked from behind and defended himself, carrying a gun under the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law. The police did check Trayvon Martin’s blood and alcohol content, but did not go door-to-door to ask if a teenager resident was missing!

The initial police report does not show that Zimmerman had a bloodied nose, or wet T-Shirt from a wrestling struggle with Martin, those were disclosed in a second police report a day later.

The City of Sanford City Commissioners voted a “no confidence” vote against Police Chief Bill Lee last night by a 3 to 2 vote. Mayor Jeff Triplett voted “no confidence” as did Commissioners Velma Williams (our African American Commissioner) and Mike McCarty who initiated the motion, and has been asking the Police Chief to resign because he didn’t feel the Chief was arresting enough panhandlers and homeless persons. (Politics makes strange bedfellows, as Mayor Triplett and Velma WIlliams have been working positively on the studied panhandling ordinance and homeless issues after Sanford was featured on two episodes of 60 Minutes concerning having two-thirds of the homeless population in Seminole County).

The continuance, suspension or firing of the Chief of Police, Bill Lee is entirely in the hands of City Manager, Norman Bonaparte, Jr. who has called for a Inquiry of the Sanford Police Department before making his decision.

Personally, I feel that Police Chief Bill Lee has been a good chief for Sanford.

He is a compassionate man who I serve with on the City’s Task Force on Homelessness. I do feel, however, that his thoroughness in investigating this matter and lack of timely release of information (“communication” issue cited by Mayor Triplett), the non-arrest of Zimmerman, and a history within Sanford’s Police Department of giving latitude to those connected to the police department have led us to a “no confidence” situation with Chief Lee.

I ask your prayers for the City of Sanford, which was feeling very positive and proactive about itself and its steps to address the homelessness issue through a Transformation Center before this incident erupted. I ask your prayers for the Martin family, the Zimmermans, the Lee family and our community — all caught up in a very human tragedy.

In Christ’s love and service,

Fr. Rory Harris +

Rector of Holy Cross Episcopal Church

The Mother Church of the Diocese of Central Florida