(Photo: First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale)
Some members of a Florida church left Sunday's services shoeless after placing their footwear on the altar to help an area homeless shelter.
First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, which is attended by about 2,000 people each Sunday, collected an estimated 700 pairs of shoes for the homeless during Sunday's "Soles for Souls" event, according to Mike Jeffries, associate to the senior pastor.
Senior Pastor Larry Thompson told The Christian Post some people went home barefoot or wearing just their socks, while others brought an extra pair of shoes to wear home.
The idea for the event came to Thompson several months ago after he toured the facilities run by the Broward Partnership for the Homeless, Inc. (BPHI). The organization operates a 200-bed emergency shelter and offers services such as medical and dental care, psychiatric services, educational services, substance abuse programs, computer classes and more to those in need.
BPHI also provides clothing for homeless individuals who the organization has helped prepare for job interviews, Thompson says, but when he took the tour he saw they were in dire need of men's shoes-only two pairs were available at the time.
"I thought, we are six blocks away from this homeless shelter, and there's not a better way we could impact part of our city than if we would just one day ask the guys to wear their best shoes to church, to take them off, leave them at the altar and go home barefoot," said Thompson.
It wasn't just men who participated, however, and in some cases whole families came forward to leave their shoes at the altar, Thompson says. Most of the people who participated also wrote a letter of encouragement to attach to the shoes they donated.
"A simple, sturdy pair of shoes can have a significant impact on the quality of life for homeless men, women and families who are working to rebuild their lives," BPHI CEO Frances Esposito said in a statement emailed to CP. "We are so grateful to First Baptist Fort Lauderdale and its congregation for this outpouring of compassion and generosity, which will mean so much to those who have so little."
First Baptist underwent a shift in vision approximately three years ago with the goal of becoming "an externally-focused church," Thompson said, and his congregation's positive response to the "Soles for Souls" initiative suggests they are moving in the right direction.
He could have simply asked his congregation to carry their shoes in and place them in a donation box, but he says there was a special significance to having them wear the shoes to one of the church's two Sunday morning services then lay them on the altar.
"I believe the altar is always a place of sacrifice," he said. "It's also a place of surrender, and a place of renewal. And I believe that it was going to require sacrifice. It was going to require surrender."
According to the BPHI website, county data shows there are approximately 1,250 homeless families and individuals who have no shelter on any given night in Broward County.