HFF realizes the importance of relationship-building as a foundation for racial bridging. As an organization we seek to:
- foster the development of interracial relationships within the church and community to enhance flourishing in Florence
- organize regular opportunities to serve and worship together
- create gatherings for learning about and discussing race and related issues
- engage in corporate prayer and grow in prayer for each other and our city
- Unity Sunday
- Assemble a diverse team to assess the community’s needs so that we can begin to address issues that are present due to racial inequities
What’s been done so far… (The Racial Bridging History of HFF)
Racial Bridging Focus Group
The Helping Florence Flourish Racial Bridging Focus Group met once a month at Cumberland UMC for a season. We immediately realized the importance of relationship building as a foundation for racial bridging. The first few months centered on discussions of current race-related events; storytelling and listening; and building trust through frank and honest conversations. In between monthly meetings, focus group members intentionally had a meal or worshiped with someone from a different race. This intentional effort broke down barriers, fostered understanding of cultural differences, and led to the “Cousin” concept (we are all related through God’s creation and related as members in Christ’s body). We note that our dear friend and pastor, Clyde Odom, gave us this term!
Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced
In early 2017, HFF brought Pastor Tony Evans to the Florence Center to teach our city about “Oneness Embraced,” uniting the racial divide. Thousands joined together for two days to hear Pastor Evans give us a Biblical and pastoral guide for striving for unity across racial and socioeconomic divides in Florence, SC. A 100+ voice choir of all races and denominations from our area led the worship. We followed up the event with a seven-week Bible Study of Tony Evans’ “Oneness Embraced” meeting at various area churches.
In February 2018 HFF hosted Neddie Winters, the president of Mission Mississippi, at the SiMT. Mission Mississippi has been leading the way in racial reconciliation in Mississippi for over 29 years and he spoke to us about the major concepts that guide them: (1) the centrality of Jesus Christ and (2) the importance of sincere, interpersonal relationships with people of other races. Winters leads this movement that simply asks Christians to live out the Gospel through “gracism,” and nothing more. Again, as we met at the SiMT, we were blessed by a racially diverse choir.
Race, Class, and the Kingdom of God
In the winter of 2020, during the Covid pandemic, HFF hosted “Race, Class, and the Kingdom of God.” We convened thirty participants via the magic of Zoom in a course taught by Arrabon’s David Bailey and Elena Aronson. We studied:
- People, Place, and a Just Society
- Becoming a Reconciling Community
- Enhancing Shalom
- Unity in Diversity
This course was offered in the shadow of the George Floyd murder by Minneapolis police. Arrabon cultivates Christian communities to pursue healing and reconciliation in a racially divided world.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
In March of 2022, Helping Florence Flourish welcomed author, speaker, Marine, wife and mother, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, to a Lunch & Learn. Natasha joined, virtually, at the Church at Sandhurst to discuss her book, “A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World.” The book follows her life and leadership journey, alongside Moses and the Exodus narrative. Throughout, Natasha shares about the themes of formation, community, history, racial injustice, wilderness experiences, and redemption. Book club groups then gathered to read the book which helped participants understand racism from Mrs. Robinson’s Orangeburg, SC beginnings. Then in May 2022 Natasha came to be with us and spent a full day traveling to all three Florence area high schools. The principals of the schools arranged for her to speak and encourage young people with the need for goal-setting and hard work. That evening Natasha spoke to a diverse gathering at New Ebenezer Baptist’s SHEREC (Strive Hard Educational Recreational and Enrichment Center) building. Her message in her book and in person challenged us to live into the plan of God for our lives together.
Every summer HFF hosts WinShape Camp for Communities, a high quality day camp for children from kindergarten to eighth grade. A young adult team from the Winshape headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia travels to Florence to execute an excellent Gospel-driven camp. HFF has purposely used the camp to create a racial bridging experience for the young people. The cost of the camp could be prohibitive, but due to generous gifts HFF is able to offer this excellent camp to many who would otherwise not be able to attend. In recent years the racial demographic was balanced for which we were encouraged. This camp will continue to be one of HFF’s primary tools in the tool box to create racial bridges.
HFF “Be the Bridge” Lunch & Learns
Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father in John 17:23, “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
There has to be intentional work done to break down racial divides and foster unity in the body of Christ. Helping Florence Flourish (HFF) did some of that intentional work in the first half of 2023. We held a Racial Bridging group discussion series, “Be the Bridge” monthly at various locations in the area. People from various racial and social backgrounds came to these “Lunch & Learn” gatherings to fellowship and hear about how to “be the bridge!”
HFF worked to “seek the peace” (Jeremiah 29:7) of Florence and beyond!
To get involved or learn more as we move forward, email Chris Handley at email@example.com with “Racial Bridging” in the subject line. You can also join our online community by clicking here!