Current and Archived News Stories
By Kimberly Luste Maran
Less than 36 hours after the June 12, 2016, Orlando, Florida, mass shooting, the Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka, Florida, announced via their Facebook page that they would host, free of charge, funeral services for those killed. The photo post indicated that the church “is extending their availability for FREE, funeral services for any LGBT victims of the #thePulse shooting.” The church also offered to stream the services live on the Internet for family and friends who cannot attend.
"We see this as an opportunity for us to serve and show compassion in this time of crisis,” said Geoff Patterson, senior pastor, Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church. The need for a church venue for services became apparent after families expressed funeral concerns to area chaplains.
|Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church displayed this announcement, which has been shared more than 24,500 times, on their Facebook page less than 36 hours after the Orlando, Fla., mass shooting on June 12.
A short time after the Forest Lake announcement appeared, the Forest City Spanish church (Altamonte Springs), Florida Hospital Church (Orlando), and Orlando Central church (Orlando) stated that they too would host funeral services for free. One day later, Altamonte Springs Church (Altamonte Springs) joined the group.
Two Forest City Spanish pastors, Jorge Figueroa and Pablo Gaitán, and one of the church’s elders, Laura Fernandez, helped tell the devastating news to some of the victims’ families. They did so in a private room along with the Orlando Police Department, hours after the tragedy.
“We comforted them and offered our church's help in any shape or form for the next 24 hours,” said Gaitán. “We contacted consulates, FBI, local county offices, and other organizations to bring assistance to them.” Gaitán said that the families were thankful, and they exchanged information with the church representatives.
“As of today [June 14], one family has reached out to us for help [with a funeral]. We know this family; and we are looking for ways to continue to assist them,” said Gaitán, an associate pastor at the Forest City Spanish church. Following the lead of sister church, Forest Lake, was a natural progression.
The Forest Lake church Facebook post quickly went viral. About 24 hours after the church’s announcement on Facebook, the post had been shared nearly 24,000 times with more than 13,000 likes and reactions, and more than 900 comments largely expressing compassion, love, and gratitude.
“I was very happy to see this post,” wrote Valerie Van Asperen Williams, from California, on Forest Lake church’s Facebook page. “The people in this church are being Jesus to those suffering this horrific loss. Thank you for doing that for them.”
In another comment, George W. Brown, from Florida, wrote: The Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist church deserves our highest commendation for its impressive display of compassion. It's an eloquent example of the unconditional love taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ to suffering human beings. . . . What the church is graciously offering the victims of this horrific crime is precisely what Christ our perfect example would offer — unconditional love and compassion.”
The Forest Lake church is glad to see the overwhelmingly positive response from church members, their Facebook friends, and the community at large. Bernie Anderson, pastor for collegiate/young adults, said, “It’s terrific that other Adventist and non-Adventist churches are responding. The response in central Florida and beyond has been extraordinary.”
|Forest City Spanish church’s Facebook post offers help to those impacted by the Orlando mass shooting.
The response has, in fact, grown, with the Florida Conference posting a list on their website of the Adventist churches available for victim funerals.
“I think it's been powerful to see our members share their appreciation that their church is stepping up to meet a need,” added Anderson. “I know there are members who have shared this far and wide with friends and the media. We've also had members who speak Spanish call in and offer to translate or interpret for the services.”
By the afternoon of June 14, Florida conference officials received word that one family has already accepted the funeral service offer from Forest Lake church. No date has been given for the service as victims’ bodies have not yet been released.
The Forest Lake church is operating with care and consideration as they offer the funeral services and video streaming. They posted on Facebook that “given the sudden and unexpected nature of this event, some — or even many — family members may not be able to attend” and, therefore, they are offering the streaming service. “We will certainly respect the wishes of any family that does not want the service streamed,” they wrote. “Our long standing policy has been to only stream (and archive) a funeral if the family requests it.”
Bernie Anderson’s wife, Christina, a certified child life specialist at Nemours Children’s Hospital, was with chaplains from Nemours who were working with some of the families who lost loved ones in the shooting. They said that some family members had expressed concern over finding church venues for funerals. She shared this with Anderson who, in turn, discussed it briefly with Patterson and Roger Anderson, Forest Lake church administrative pastor; and the ministry team moved forward in letting the community know the church was available.
“This is an opportunity to show compassion,” said Walter Castro, Florida Conference lay ministries coordinator, during a ministries teleconference on June 14. “Most of the victims were Latino. After the media is gone, a week from now things will be back to normal, but a lot of people will still be hurting. We want to show our love and compassion, and show to the younger generation that we are here for people.
“We are not here to do PR for the Adventist Church,” Castro added. “We are here to show people that we care. We are a church with compassion for whoever is suffering.”
— A. Lee Bennett Jr., associate director of Communication, Florida Conference, contributed to this report. Click here for ways to help after the Orlando shooting, shared by Florida Conference.