It was 38 years ago this fall that Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church parishioner Josephine Anderson decided to organize a Thanksgiving dinner for the disadvantaged and homeless of South Miami. Today it has grown into an annual community wide event where not only those who cannot afford their own turkey dinner benefit, but parishioners and area neighbors also have an opportunity to fellowship together as one big family.
The sunny Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving saw over a hundred happy diners gathered under the tented outside tables in the church parking lot to enjoy smoked turkey, collard greens and ham hocks, breaded stuffing, candied yams, yellow rice, corn bread, cranberry sauce and a variety of cakes to satisfy any sweet tooth.
It was an extra special day as in addition to the large supportive crowd a new Pastor was also present to enjoy the festivities and meet more of the community: Rodney James from Bishopville, South Carolina.
Organizer Josephine Anderson said, “The dinner started as a chance for us to minister to our less fortunate population. Eventually we invited the I whole community to take part. It is a joyful time for us to all equally share together.” Ladies like Anderson, Daisy Harrell, Sharon Johnson and Marie Dean serve the food from the main tent. The tables around their station are full of seemingly endless supplies of steaming hot aluminum food containers overflowing with Thanksgiving platter classics. Church members sign up for dishes they plan to bring in from a menu list and the great cook-a-thon begins the preceding day of the dinner.
“The parish members have given so much regardless of their own financial challenges. I really thought this year some would draw back due to the economic situation but fortunately nobody has,” said Anderson. Pastor James has embraced this tradition as a critical part of the leadership style he has begun to unveil in his two months so far at the church.
“We are here to feed the hungry.We want to expand our food and clothing ministry. There is a tremendous population of homeless residents in our community. We embrace them like family and give them what we have. We need to support all so everyone has what they need to survive,” said James. James says he intends to be not just a preacher speaking on Sunday in four consecrated walls but also a Monday through Friday social activist. “We are here to not just reclaim membership for those who have drifted off to be part of the fellowship again but to work for social change. We are the pulse of the community.We intend to be that city upon a hill. People ought to look to us and see a place of health, hope, and healing. We want to not just be visible but also viable.”
The Murray pool project, Mattison Square, and expanded day care and after school activities to include developing the church’s own teaching institution are just a few of the priorities on James’ agenda.
“The pool is important. Kids need recreation and the majority of our population does not come from certain privileged backgrounds whereby they have a pool at home. If kids are involved in recreation, ultimately there is less incarceration. The Mattison Square project is being held up. We need to get it at a level where it is comparable to Red Road so that 59 Avenue can enjoy the same tax base for economic prosperity. We also choose not to criticize the educational system but rather do our best to educate our kids ourselves,” said James.
According to James, relying on government to solve problems is a losing proposition. “Government has proven time and time again that we cannot rely on them to get what we need. Many want to do the right thing but the red tape gets in the way. Grassroots initiatives have proven to be the best way in our American history to affect social change. If I cannot stop it, God has at least given me the voice to speak truth to power.”
For more information on 93 year old Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church call 305-667-7791 or visit the church at 6316 SW 59 Place. Sunday services are at 11am. Bible Study is Monday evening at 7:30pm.