Church launches community prayer breakfast, newsletter to counter crime

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church launches community prayer breakfast, newsletter to counter crime

Sept. 27, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0745}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

RIVIERA BEACH — In Riviera Beach, just two blocks from a street named for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., members of Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church continue the battle to bring healing and hope to their community.

Riviera Beach is just a few minutes’ drive from affluent West Palm Beach. With a population of a little more than 33,000, its violent crime rates are staggering. The number of murders, robberies and assaults is more than six, five and four times the national averages, respectively, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Crimes in the United States 2005” report.

The Rev. Verona Matthews (center) prays during the community prayer breakfast Sept. 1 for those who live in the neighborhood surrounding her church, Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church, who are victims of crimes and those who commit the crimes. Photo by Steven Skelley. Photo #07-0677.

In August 2006 the Rev. Verona Matthews, pastor of the church, organized and launched the Free Community Prayer Breakfast in response to shootings and acts of violence against children in the community and to help bring change to the neighborhood.

Held one Saturday a month at the church, the prayer breakfasts are a time when residents and local leaders come together in prayer for their neighbors and community.

September’s prayer breakfast opened with the sounds of members and guests singing “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

Matthews stood beside a small wooden table on which was placed a bottle of oil, a stack of prayer requests and newspaper clippings. One at a time, she took each paper from the stack and prayed specifically for people involved in the crimes reported — both victim and attacker.

“We are praying for deliverance for them: deliverance from violent acts, from pornography, deliverance from evil desires,” she said. “We choose to forgive them as the father forgave the prodigal son; not just seven times but as many times as it takes, just as God has forgiven us.”

Matthews shared two separate incidents of groups of youth attacking and raping women in nearby neighborhoods and prayed for the attackers, that their “bondages would be broken.”

Matthews also prayed for a young girl who told her mother she was afraid to sleep in her own bed because of the violence in her neighborhood.

“There always seems to be violence against children,” Matthews said. “We need to pray for and protect these children. … We want God to deliver them and their parents. We pray for freedom from gross injustices like rape, abuse and racism.”

Matthews then led the group in praying for police officers, emergency services and local leaders, asking God to touch their lives and hearts.

After praying for community needs, Matthews invited attendees to the altar to share their prayer requests. One by one they whispered their request in her ear, and she anointed them with oil, took them by the hand and prayed with them quietly.

Earl Davis, president of the Southside Coalition: the Neighborhood Crime Watch Organization, lives about two blocks from the church and attended the Sept. 1 prayer breakfast.

With a school across the street from the church, Davis says church members have a vision to protect children and youth. In addition to youth crime and violence, he says he often sees violence between adults.

“I have people living around me who are 93 and 94 years old. When something happens, they call me before they even call the police,” he said.

“One day two elderly neighbors got into an argument, and one of them pulled a gun on the other. She is 87 years old. I brought them both to my porch, and we sat there and worked things out, and now they are best friends.”

One Saturday a month, Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church invites neighbors and leaders to a free prayer breakfast. The goal is to pray for and support each other in efforts to make an impact on the rates of crime occurring in the church’s Riviera Beach community. Photo by Steven Skelley. Photo #07-0678.

Davis says special speakers — community leaders, city council members, city managers — are invited to the church and prayer breakfast, and local leaders have pledged their time and support.

State Representative Priscilla Taylor is a close friend of Matthews’ and attends the prayer breakfast when she can.

“I have known Rev. Matthews for a number of years,” she said. “Needless to say, there is much to be done in the Riviera Beach community. Rev. Matthews is someone who grew up near the neighborhood and has a personal interest in seeing things get better. She is a positive role model. … I am encouraged by her involvement and her commitment.”

Basil Breckenridge, a local pianist, plays piano at the monthly gathering. He said he believes the prayer breakfast is making a difference in the community.

“There are a lot more people coming and a lot more people off the street attending,” he said.

Breckenridge said the church wants to bring a calming influence to the community.

“You can see from the newspapers that crime is growing,” he said. “We’re hoping to have a real positive influence here.”

Gwendolyn Myers felt it was important to participate because of the sense of family the church is trying to bring to the community.

“We’re trying to reach out to youth in our community because there is so much violence that kids are confused,” she said. “ … What they see on television is often very negative, profane and violent. Children copy what they see. We want to educate them on a better way of living.”

Fifteen-year-old Frank Hartfield attended the prayer breakfast with is mother. “I’m here praying for this community because we all need God’s help,” he said.

As a companion to the prayer breakfast, Matthews publishes a community newsletter. She went to the post office and used the cross-index directory to build her subscription list, which includes about 260 people in the neighborhood.

“People tell me they love the newsletter,” she said. “The focus of the newsletter is always the same focus as that month’s prayer breakfast. There is a different topic each month.”

Davis says the newsletter and prayer breakfast are educating people in their community “to do good.”

“I made a promise to myself to do one good thing for someone every day,” he said. “Whether it’s family, friend or neighbor, I’m going to do something good for someone every day.

Davis says they are all trying to stop the violence: “I counsel people on my porch. Whatever problem we have in the community, let’s work it out.”

Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church is located at 1144 West 6th Street, Riviera Beach, FL 33407. More information about the prayer breakfast ministry is available by contacting the church office at 561-844-4542.


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.

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