Personal Relationships Bridge Age and Race Barriers in Florida
By Jeff Hayes
Despite one pastor being a black Gen-X’er and the other a white millennial, Vincent Miller and Kevin Stamper have much in common. This is their story.
Vincent and Kevin are both preacher’s kids married with children, sons of the South, sons of the Church of God, and graduates of Church of God universities. Today they pastor Church of God congregations near the Gulf Coast of Florida, but have also pastored congregations in the north. They met about five years ago in a cluster group sponsored by Florida Church of God Ministries.
Vincent recalls a time when he and Kevin accepted a carpool invitation from another cluster member. The trio agreed to meet outside a swanky Tampa country club where the driver had a breakfast meeting. Arriving first, Vincent parked and exited his car with cellphone in hand. While waiting, he quietly acknowledged several club members as they came and went. Moments later the morning serenity was broken by two patrol cars; he knew the drill.
“I was called because the club has recently had several car break-ins,” spoke the woman officer as she politely approached. She asked if Vincent could please provide a form of ID. As he complied, a second officer arrived. His demeanor was agitated and angry; “I’m glad she showed up first,” Vincent thought silently. As the officers completed their review of his ID, his cluster mates appeared. Kevin would later recall how calmly his friend handled the humiliating incident. “That’s just the way it is; I am used to it,” shared Vincent. This racial profiling did not sit well with Kevin.
When the Black Lives Matter protests began in June, on Blackout Tuesday, Kevin invited Vincent to share lunch. Kevin wanted to hear more from his friend about the issues of racism in America. Thankfully, their relationship now had roots for deeper listening. Despite the differences of age and skin tone, the communion between these two brothers in Christ was meaningful. “God is faithful,” shares Vincent, “it gives me hope.”
Both men pastor very different congregations. Miller is the first non-Caucasian pastor of First Church of God in Tampa, an aging and established, but now more diverse church in the midst of transition. Stamper is the founding pastor of Restoration Church, a four-year-old primarily white Church of God congregation not too far away in Trinity, Florida.
Kevin and Vincent felt it important to continue to build relationships. Kevin asked, “What can Restoration Church do to assist First Church?” Vincent shared that First Church could really use some extra hands to catch up on some Florida summer landscaping needs. Kevin immediately thought this sounded perfect for Restoration Church’s monthly “Second Saturday Serve” project. Kevin offered to have his crew do whatever needed to be done.
Stamper reports that on July 11 twenty persons from Restoration gathered at First Church to tame a wildly overgrown field, trim trees, and pressure-wash the church. Miller appreciated the assistance and reports that he will be participating in an online forum with Restoration Church on August 9 to share his experience living as a black man in America.
Miller feels optimistic about the future. Although issues of racism persist, he believes progress can be made through intentional relationship-building between individuals. Miller believes everyone needs a true friend of a different color; and if you don’t have one, you need to make one. Stamper believes “followers of Jesus can be agents of ending racism, but it begins on a personal level. It’s my responsibility to listen, to learn, and to love.”
Help churches like these work together to stand against racial injustice in their communities:
Rev. Dr. Jeff Hayes has served on ministry leadership teams in Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania, and Ohio. He recently completed eighteen years of service on the ministry faculty at Warner University and provides leadership to a new ministry, the Way of Compassion. He resides in Winter Haven, Florida, with his wife Karen.
*Feature (top) photo: Kevin (left) and Vincent (right).