Heavy hearts and joyful songs coexisted Sunday at United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale (UCC).

This was the first time the congregation held Sunday service after losing their beloved pastor, Rev. Patrick Rogers. It happened to be gospel music Sunday, an hour filled with loud, upbeat songs. The staff debated canceling the theme, but it was Rogers’ favorite service of the month and they honored him by singing loud enough for him to hear in Heaven. 

“He so totally loved each and every one of us unconditionally,” pastoral associate Emily Jazombek said during the service. “He showed us that we are to go out and love each other. Take care of each other. Even in these hard times, and they are hard, we are holding on to his unconditional love.”

After the service, Jazombek talked with SFGN about her friendship that started when she came to church.

“It’s such a huge loss. I’m feeling so empty and numb right now. We just clicked. About a year ago he said, ‘I want to mentor you and keep you close by.’ We became closer and closer friends.”

The church is planning a Celebration of Life at the church on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 10:30 a.m. and will be streamed live at uccftl.org. A reception will follow. 

Long Journey of Service

Rogers was born on October 15, 1956 and grew up in Dixon, Tennessee. After graduating high school, he studied business and accounting at the University of Memphis. He spent most of his early professional life in the business and consulting world.

By the early 2000s, he was living in South Florida and was executive director at Sunshine Cathedral. Rev. Joel Slotnick was his friend for decades and worked with him there. He told SFGN that Rogers had a calling to ministry, but tried his hardest to ignore it. Eventually, he went to seminary at Pacific School of Religion in California. He said the beauty of the campus inspired him daily and confirmed that his calling to God was true.

After finishing, he worked in several churches including one in Palm Beach County. But it was a stint at an MCC church in Topeka, Kansas, that made an impression on him to rededicate his life to love. He often told me about the actions of the hateful, anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church. The group is known for holding rallies at funerals for military and gay people. As a gay man he was horrified. As a gay pastor, he knew love must always shine through.

“He always had faith and belief that everybody was good,” Slotnick said. “He wanted to see the good in everybody and he lived by that almost all the time.”

But despite his travels, Rogers was always connected to South Florida. In 2015, he applied to UCC where his old friend, Slotnick, worked.

“He always wanted to come back. It was time to do a pastoral search and Patrick put in as one of the candidates. He preached to the congregation and ended up becoming our senior pastor.”

It was then that he made a plea to his LGBT sisters and brothers to rediscover God and church.

“I understand how you feel, because I have lived it too,” he told SFGN at the time. “This church is a safe place to be who you are. We are watching people come into their own here and it is great to see.” 

Fight With Cancer

In early 2022, Rogers was diagnosed with very aggressive melanoma. He was accepted into a treatment program in Houston, Texas, and would travel every few weeks for his medicine. He was hoping that doctors would approve his medication to be administered in Miami so he could avoid the travel that, combined with the effects of melanoma and treatment, was taking a toll on his body.

One month before he died, SFGN interviewed him for Gun Safety Sunday, and you would not have known he was sick. He was weaving in between volunteers and overseeing all the operations. His passion for love and life was as bright as ever. The program, which gives out free gunlocks, was so successful that the national UCC congregation is going to pick it up and hold similar events around the country.

Shortly after that, the treatments, travel, and illness caught up with him. He entered hospice care and passed shortly thereafter. His friend Slotnick said once the news spread he received messages from around the world offering condolences and celebrating his life. 

Rev. Patrick Rogers was 65 years old.

Before his passing, Rogers shared a message to his Congregation on Facebook

"The last seven years of service to our United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale have been the happiest years of my life and I wouldn’t change a thing. I believe we have followed the Spirit of God in the way it is intended. Please know how very much I love this congregation. I love our family of believers probably more than anyone could ever love a congregation. I want each of you to continue to work to love, welcome and support our community, the way we do now because, that is the Gospel message.

"We’ve learned that a sense of community is the heart of this congregation. As we have grown in our understanding of the gospel commission, there are ever new opportunities before us and we need to push in the direction of being God’s loving, giving, welcoming, supportive church that God would have us be. As we have been led by the Holy Spirit to grow into the church we are today, so God will lead all of us into the future. We can have great confidence in the future."