Churches minister together after grand jury’s decision sparks new violence
By Lisa Sergent
Ferguson, Missouri | First Baptist Church of Ferguson stands in the middle of the chaos. “It was a rough, volatile night,” said Ron Beckner, the associate pastor. “The Little Caesar’s [Pizza] that burned down to the ground was across from our building, [but] there was no damage or anything on our property.
“It’s very quiet and business as usual this morning,” he noted.
Violence erupted in the St. Louis suburb Monday night, after a St. Louis county grand jury refused to indict a Ferguson police officer on any criminal charges in the shooting death of a young black man. The streets were filled with protestors, some looting and setting cars and buildings on fire. Twelve businesses were burned and 61 people were arrested.
But, as of now, First Baptist Church is unharmed and still reaching out to a shaken community.
Two groups – one from FBC and another from a sister church – used FBC’s parking lot as a staging area Tuesday morning to go out into the community and pick-up trash and other debris left behind by the protestors. Beckner said the church “wants people to see that God’s people are on mission.”
The local school district cancelled classes the day following the grand jury’s decision, but requested the church be a pick-up point for student lunches prepared by the district. The church also allowed the district to have staff present for what he described as “students who wished to have an opportunity for education.”
Beckner described the situation as particularly frightening for people who live close by. “I was watching the Little Caesar’s burn down on TV and couldn’t help but think of the house that sits about 150 feet behind it. What must have been going through those people’s minds?” He walked by the house this morning and found no visible damage.
“We’re praying cooler heads prevail and that city leaders can shut the violence off. We need our leaders to take an active role.”
Referring to the protesters, he said, “It only takes a few to subvert the message… One of the saddest parts of the whole thing is the very businesses that were burned serve this community and provide jobs to the people who live in it.”
Local news is reporting that unlike the riots in August, the perpetrators of the damage to the community on November 24 where from the St. Louis area. Beckner said authorities had warned that outsiders could begin to arrive in 48 hours. “We were told it takes that long for instigators outside the community to arrive. When more and more people arrive from outside the area, it doesn’t bode well for the police or our citizens.”
First Baptist Church averages just over 200 Sunday morning worshippers. The congregation is diverse: over one third of its members are African American and that number continues to grow. “We want to look like our community,” Beckner said.
Beckner also lamented how the national media are portraying the community as racist and segregated. Most of Ferguson is “fifty-fifty white and black,” Beckner said. “There’s not a lot of tension here especially among the older, more mature individuals. This picture being presented is not we lived before this incident took place.”
Throughout the tension that has existed since the August shooting, First Baptist has stood as a beacon of peace in the community. Beckner said, “We’re praying that God will get the glory and that His people will stand tall.”
“Sometimes we pray God will keep evil away from us,” he said. “That’s very noble, but we need to be God’s advocate in the midst of that evil. We need to be looking for doors of opportunity to be His hands and feet.”
Two weeks ago, First Baptist Church hosted a prayer meeting for spiritual awakening in the heartland, an event that was planned months before the August riots. Southern Baptist leaders joined local church leaders and members to pray for the salvation of Ferguson. That story appears in the December 1 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and online at IBSA.org.