Halfway church responds to Chick-fil-A controversy with Day of Compassion

October 06, 2012|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |
  • Rob Apgar staples insulation into place Saturday at Habitat for Humanity house on Concord Street. He was part of a work crew from Veritas United Church of Christ in Halfway.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

The image of Chick-fil-A and its inflammatory label was heavily circulated on social media sites.

“You’d never see that many Christians lined up to help at a food bank or homeless shelter. And that’s something Jesus actually said to do,” it read.

The message came in response to crowds of people turning out locally and nationally on Aug. 1 to support Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. The day of appreciation was suggested by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a way to counteract boycotts sparked by company President Dan Cathy’s statement that he and Chick-fil-A are “guilty as charged” in opposition to gay marriage. The fast-food chain is known for its “biblically-based principles” such as its policy of staying closed on Sundays.

The Rev. Rob Apgar-Taylor of Veritas United Church of Christ in Halfway said he opposed the outpouring of support for Chick-fil-A , and the assertion that Christians would never line up to serve “really angered me.”

“That day, what I saw all over Facebook was, ‘There go the Christians judging other people again,’” he said. “It’s always the Christians who are the loudest who get the most attention. And it’s often the ones who I don’t think represent the majority of Christians.”

Apgar-Taylor said Veritas is the only “mainline open and affirming church” in the area. He said the year-and-a-half-old church with a congregation of about 30 people puts emphasis on being open to all people.

“Gay people, straight people, it doesn’t matter. It’s time for the liberal progressive church to have a voice, not just the conservative evangelicals,” he said. “I get so tired of people hijacking Christianity from the rest of the world. I’m tired of people looking at Christianity and thinking we are all that way.”

In response, he and his church, which rents space from Church of the Holy Trinity, established Saturday as a Day of Compassion. The congregation served at a Habitat for Humanity house on Concord Street in the morning and at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter in the afternoon. Through Facebook, Apgar-Taylor said, it invited other churches to join in. The response was “small, but fairly significant,” he said.

A Metropolitan Community Church in Montgomery County, Md., posted that it would be ministering to residents of a nursing home. A Presbyterian group in Baltimore said it was going on a missions trip in correspondence with the event. And a Frederick, Md., United Church of Christ youth group planned a social justice weekend to serve in its local community.

Apgar-Taylor said Veritas picked Saturday as the Day of Compassion in part because today is World Communion Day and he thought it would be symbolic of unity. The church also chose the day because Oct. 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who was dedicated to serving those in poverty and in need, Apgar-Taylor said.

About six individuals who attend Veritas hung insulation at the Habitat home throughout the morning. Several more set up cots and put out blankets, pillows and hygiene packets at REACH to prepare for the shelter’s November opening.

REACH shelter manager Cindi Messersmith said the shelter stays open 22 weeks through partnerships with various faith-based groups.

“Volunteers are the backbone of us,” she said. “Whenever we need anything, we call a church. There are a lot of good volunteers in Hagerstown.”

Rob Apgar, Apgar-Taylor’s husband, said he felt “blessed” to serve Saturday.

“I’m glad to be giving a voice to the voiceless,” he said. “A lot of people in Maryland think Hagerstown is a more red, more conservative area. There is a strong liberal movement here as well. It’s time people see that and notice that.”

Amaya Dull of Hagerstown worked at the shelter with her daughters, Katherine, 12, and Eryn, 8.

“I wanted them to understand that the world is bigger than them. Many people don’t have what they have. They can make a difference,” Dull said. “I think it’s important for people to show compassion to their fellow human being and not judge.”

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