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Miami church engages the community while the worshiping is remote


Congregation takes advantage of quarantine time to lean into Matthew 25

July 14, 2021

A Black Lives Matter sign created by high school members of Riviera Presbyterian Church has been the site of a Free Art Friday event. (Photo by Robertson Adams)

When Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami made the commitment to become a Matthew 25 church, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

“We thought nothing of it,” said Barbara Overton, co-chair for the Mission Committee. “Riviera has been a long-standing progressive voice in South Florida. We were comfortable being known as a ‘social justice’ church.”

Launched in April 2019, Matthew 25 is a bold vision and invitation to actively engage congregations in the world around them by embracing one or more of the three focuses: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

Even with its history of social justice, Riviera Presbyterian was still surprised at the negative public reaction to large Black Lives Matter and God Loves All rainbow signs designed by their high school youth that were posted prominently outside the church.

“We received hate mail and threats stating that our signage was ‘un-Christian,’” said Overton. “We recognized being a Matthew 25 congregation is not about being conventional or safe. For some, systemic racism is not an accepted reality.”

For others, their public stance has made Riviera a friendly and welcoming space. The controversial Black Lives Matter sign has been the site of Free Art Friday — a social media-driven, local pop-up art scavenger hunt-like event promoting art, and in this case, highlighting social justice issues.

“When you can’t be in the building, how do you use the building to communicate?” asked Overton. “We are hopeful that standing with our siblings in Christ will bring more joyful creativity to and out of the community, whether we are worshiping inside, outside or at home.”

Like most other congregations, Riviera’s well-planned programming had to be set aside when COVID-19 came on the scene in early 2020. The Mission Committee came up with an alternative that allowed members to meet virtually and educate themselves on various topics related to the Matthew 25 journey.

Some of those gatherings were centered on a movie or short film that they watched on their own time and came together virtually to reflect, discuss and action plan a response. Action items included an offering of letters related to hunger issues, renewed focus on fertilizer use at home and at the church, and participation in the Season of Creation. Some of the topics were gun safety, racial justice, climate change, immigration, hunger and violence against women. They also focused on educating members and the community about the importance of voting and how to vote by mail.

“One of my goals for the program was not to sit and rehash that there is a problem. We all know there is a problem,” said Overton. “What can we as people of faith do about it individually or as a community?”

Convicted by the Matthew 25 passage, both the 222nd and 223rd General Assemblies (2016 and 2018) exhorted the PC(USA) to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.

To see the map and list of all 800-plus congregations, groups and mid councils that have accepted the Matthew 25 invitation, click here. You can learn more about the work of each congregation through their stories and videos.

Melody K. Smith, Associate for Organizational Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Matthew 25 congregation

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Elizabeth Olker, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Laura Olliges, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program

Let us pray:

Our Father in heaven, may we find courage and comfort in the daily reminder that you are a God who assures his children: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:1–2). In Christ’s name. Amen.

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