BUFFALO, N.Y. (BP) – As Buffalo mourns the murder of 10 African Americans in a racially motivated supermarket massacre, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Interim President and CEO Willie McLaurin is conducting a ministry of presence.
McLaurin traveled to Buffalo to hear the concerns and needs of area pastors, express his love and concern and visit the memorial outside Tops Supermarket honoring those murdered.
“For years I have valued the ministry of presence,” McLaurin told Baptist Press. “Being with fellow believers during a time of crisis provides comfort and reassurance that they are not alone. Ministry is complex and challenging.
“My goals were to listen to the stories of ministry leaders in Buffalo, learn about how God is at work in their church and community as a result of this tragic act of violence, and demonstrate the love of Jesus,” McLaurin said. “Simply put, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Brian Robinson, senior pastor of Fillmore Community Church about two miles from the supermarket, was among about 10 pastors in the Frontier Baptist Association and others who greeted McLaurin.
“Dr. Willie McLaurin’s visit is greatly appreciated; because of his own experience in the tragic death of a family member, he can empathize and sympathize with the grief and suffering of the family members of the victims,” Robinson said, referencing that George Floyd was McLaurin’s third cousin. “He also knows what is involved with comforting others while dealing with your own feelings.”
Faithful Stones Church, a non-Southern Baptist evangelical church near the scene of the crime, hosted the pastors’ meeting. Faithful Stone Senior Pastor Mark Hamilton is building relationships with area Southern Baptists.
“What happened on Saturday, May 14th, 2022, has brought and will bring the secret counsel of God’s good purpose to light,” Hamilton said. “We may not see it or understand why, how, what or when, but out of the ash heap of death will rise the goodness of a good God.”
Others welcoming McLaurin included Frontier Baptist Association Associational Missionary Mike Flannery, North Buffalo Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Smith, and Amherst Baptist Church Pastor Eric Napoli.
Frank Williams, a Bronx, N.Y., pastor and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, said McLaurin’s trip was important to Southern Baptist relations.
“It means a lot that Dr. McLaurin took the time to visit the pastors, families and the Buffalo community,” Williams said. “It demonstrates his heart for the people whose lives are permanently changed in the wake of this tragic mass shooting. His presence represented our denomination in a way that demonstrated a care for this vulnerable community that was targeted.”
Williams did not attend the event, but previously reached out to Robinson and Smith, praying with them individually and on a Buffalo outreach on Zoom.
Southern Baptists have responded to the tragedy with prayer and tangible support, with community cookouts planned for May 28 and June 4 in the parking lot of Faithful Stones Church. The Southern Baptist Convention of Texas is among out-of-state groups planning to respond, McLaurin said.
Flannery believes McLaurin’s visit will help cement relationships with the broader evangelical community in Buffalo and speed Gospel outreach.
“The mere fact that he came, was willing to come, really showed that we are partners in the work together. And he wants to come back, this summer perhaps, and see additional work that can be done and encourage people,” Flannery said. “I feel like, even now … there’s a warmer fellowship between the evangelical community and Frontier Association because of this and how we’re working together.
“They talked about working together and getting the Gospel out in difficult times, meeting their (the community’s) physical, mental emotional and spiritual needs, but never forgetting their spiritual, as they meet with this disaster.”
Williams applauded the Southern Baptist response to the tragedy.
“Several of our SBC leaders reached out to me and to others to see what they could do to help. This spoke volumes, and says that the lives of those persons who were killed matters to us all,” Williams said. “Our denomination is known for disaster relief by effectively coming into devastated communities to help them recover.
“When massacres like this happen, especially when it has the appearance of being motivated by a racist agenda, it requires disaster relief of a different kind. It begins with the kind of solidarity that Paul the apostle speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12:26, ‘and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.’”
The Southern Baptist response will continue long after the national attention dies, Flannery said.
“In about a week or so, the TV cameras, everything leaves, and then we’ll be there with an ongoing evangelical ministry, ministry to the whole person,” Flannery said. “Like we do in disaster relief, we stick around and we share the Gospel.”
Robinson, a bivocational pastor who works in education, spoke of the tragedy’s far-reaching impact.
“I would like other Southern Baptists to recognize the devastation this evil act has had on Buffalo’s Black community in particular and the city as a whole,” Robinson said. “Like other cities in the nation we have our share of gun violence. But this was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a disciple of White supremacy.”
McLaurin condemned the evil.
“Sin of any kind grieves God,” he said. “When that sin results in the killing of innocent lives, we should call it evil and do everything we can to rebuke and combat against it. When tragedy strikes any community it should break our hearts, but not break our resolve. MLK Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ When my brothers and sisters in another city are facing a crisis, then other Southern Baptists should do everything they can to demonstrate concern.”