Entering his seventh year as senior pastor, Rev. Patrick Rogers leads an evolving congregation at the United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale.

“I think we’re being led by the spirit in this new concept of rebuilding church and what church is,” said Rogers. “Church used to be — how many people come on Sunday morning and what the offering was. It’s not like that at our church anymore, not that it ever was the focus. We’re now rebuilding our church to be about the needs of the community.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed and challenged those needs. From relying more on live streaming and virtual programming to embracing new methods of healing, the church continues to respond.

“Adapting is very important,” Rogers said. “We are adapting to the current needs of the community.”

For the world, COVID has been an emotional setback inflicting doubt, fear and isolation. Rogers himself fell victim to the virus, testing positive days before Christmas despite being fully vaccinated and boosted. He spoke to SFGN via telephone from quarantine. 

“It’s been a difficult year to be a leader in this time, working with the church to decide how to cope and deal with the needs brought out by COVID,” he confessed.

Rogers was able to return to the pulpit after New Years, getting a negative test result in time to deliver a social justice sermon in honor of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Rogers repeated Tutu’s famous words about neutrality.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” Tutu declared. 

At UCCFTL Rogers, his staff and volunteers strive to lift the elephant’s foot off of the mouse’s tail in several ways. Through Ruth’s ministry, the church offers a weekly hot meal, clothing and other essential supplies to the homeless and hungry. COVID has pushed this mission outside, but the struggle is real and people are still coming.

Other avenues of healing such as sound therapy and reiki have attracted a new generation. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, young people gather at the church, energized by sound. 

“We have found a way to attract millennials,” Rogers said. “It’s magic. Now we have 50 to 80 millennials every week who come for sound healing with gongs and bowls. It’s the vibration level of the sound that actually does physical and spiritual healing. The Millenials love it. That’s how they relate to God and the spirit is through being quiet and listening to the sound.”

One of 92 UCC churches in Florida, the Fort Lauderdale congregation remains a safe space for LGBT people. Rogers said the greater Fort Lauderdale area is a desirable place to call home.

“I consider it the best, most diverse place for LGBTQ people in the entire country, even over San Francisco,” Rogers said. “I went to seminary in Oakland, California. In San Francisco, a lot of the gay bars are gone and it's very commercialized like Key West, but here we have a rainbow bridge, Pride weekends, the excitement of being LGBTQ in Wilton Manors and the Fort Lauderdale area is stronger than ever.”

Tapping into that strength and channeling it for good is part of the evolution process. One of the church’s signature phrases is “...where God is still speaking,” and for Rogers that message now centers on healing.

“God gave me this vision that what the world needs in our community is healing,” he said. “We’re open to where the Holy Spirit is leading us to be who she wants us to be.”


Credit: JR Davis.


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