A Justice Site
CSUDH - Habermas - UWP - Archives
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: January 30, 2005
Latest Update: January 30, 2005
This backup copy is to be used only if the original site on the Web is not accessible. It is meant to preserve the document for teaching purposes, when sometimes the URLS are changed when sites are updated, or sites are eliminated. Please be certain to give credit if you refer to this to the original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/30/sports/30jacksonville.html. Original URL, consulted: January 30, 2005.
January 30, 2005
In Jacksonville, Faith, Hope and Charity at a Super Bowl
By ROBERT ANDREW POWELL
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Jan. 23 - David Garrett's mission walks in step with his city. With the Super Bowl coming to Jacksonville for the first time, the eyes of more than a hundred million people will turn to northeast Florida, known here as the First Coast. Mr. Garrett wants his ambitious hometown to make a good impression.
"When they look at Jacksonville, I want them to see loving people who care about their city," he said. "I want them to see Jesus."
Mr. Garrett is the head of the Jacksonville Baptist Association's Super Bowl Ministry. In a city where the daily paper, The Florida Times-Union, prints quotations from the Bible on its editorial page, Mr. Garrett is trying to infuse his faith into the week of celebrations that culminate Feb. 6 with Super Bowl XXXIX between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The more worldly side of those festivities has been seen in other host cities: the discos of South Beach in Miami, the saloons of the French Quarter in New Orleans and the nightlife of Buckhead in Atlanta, where Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was involved in a fatal street fight after the game in 2000.
"Religion is deeply embedded in the fabric of society, particularly here in this region," the N.F.L. spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "The Super Bowl often includes events that reflect the surrounding areas. That's why you're seeing more of these type of events here."
Religious groups in Jacksonville have planned interdenominational tie-ins to the game even before the crowds arrive. [The Super March for Jesus on Saturday drew several thousand people from local churches for a one-mile prayer walk from the courthouse downtown to Alltel Stadium, site of the Super Bowl.]
Although religion is also a fundamental component of several Super Bowl week events sanctioned by the National Football League - like the Convoy of Hope, the Athletes in Action breakfast and the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration - those activities are supposed to be inclusive.
"The idea is not to have an event that would allow people to recruit or promote one religion over another," Mr. McCarthy said. "The idea is to be attractive to a wide variety of people."
Mr. Garrett's work began more than four years ago, on the day Jacksonville was awarded the Super Bowl. As fireworks burst over the St. Johns River, he was questioning Baptists in Miami and other host cities about how to mobilize volunteers. Two years ago, he flew to San Diego. Last year, he spent game week in Houston.
"I learned that the Super Bowl is not just one game that kicks off at 6:35 p.m. on a Sunday," he said. "It's a whole week of events."
To prepare, Mr. Garrett helped place two young Baptists as interns with the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee. The interns act as liaisons to church leadership.
"The Baptist church is part of the community, and so it has an impact on our membership," said Michael Kelly, president of the 16-member host committee. "But the committee is led by the business culture, which is focused on growing the city."
Through a Web site, fdfc.org, for First Down First Coast, Mr. Garrett corralled volunteers for everything from manning the N.F.L. Experience theme park to breaking down the stage after the game's halftime show, which will star Paul McCartney.
"Jesus said we're to be the salt and the light," Mr. Garrett said. "We don't run away from the place we hate; we run to it. A lot of people were complaining about last year's halftime show, saying, 'Look at how horrible it was with the wardrobe malfunction and all that.' I'm saying, 'Here's an opportunity.' Just by being there we have that element of making a difference."
In khaki pants and a polo shirt, Mr. Garrett carries a leather briefcase crammed with his calendar, a Palm Pilot, Christian magazines and notes from his many engagements.
"Normally, I keep a regular 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. office job," he said. "But for all of December, I said, 'Don't plan on me for any meetings; I'm all about the Super Bowl.' I'm working all the time, kind of nonstop right now."
Some days he is at the Super Bowl Host Committee headquarters downtown, squeezed into a narrow cubicle to answer the volunteer-information hotline. On Jan. 20, he attended a meeting at the Words to Work ministry in a small church off Main Street, out by the Trout River. Mr. Garrett sat at a round table, which was draped in a plastic tablecloth dusted with salt granules, inhaling air flavored by coffee.
The meeting was convened for the Convoy of Hope scheduled for the day before the Super Bowl in Brentwood Park, a narrow stretch of grass ringed by public housing projects. In addition to a gospel concert, the convoy will offer free food, a car show, a children's zone and such random benefits as free cholesterol testing. Pastor Nick Phoenix, the head of the food subcommittee, told Mr. Garrett and seven other volunteers that the convoy, formed by more than 100 local churches, would be the largest faith-based outreach event that the N.F.L. had ever seen.
"I think this event will really give us a glimpse of how heaven is going to look," Pastor Phoenix said.
The volunteers sipped pink lemonade and unsweetened tea. "Pray Hard" and "Fired Up for Jesus" T-shirts hung on a bulletin board, from which they could be bought for $10. Pastor Phoenix expects 10,000 to 15,000 people to show up at the convoy. "If you want to hand out tracts, cards that say that you love someone, that's your business," Pastor Phoenix said, winking at N.F.L. rules against overt evangelism. "Sometimes it's as easy as going out and saying, 'I just want you to know, sister, that God has a wonderful plan for your life.' Touch 'em on the hand, look 'em in the eye; it's a memory they'll never forget."
When the meeting adjourned, Pastor Phoenix asked Mr. Garrett and the others to clasp hands and pray.
Of the many millions who will watch the Super Bowl on television, Pastor Phoenix said: "They'll be looking and listening to our sermon, and what will that be? It will be that God loves them, and so do we."
Mr. Garrett squeezed the hands of his neighbors as he said, "Amen." He then hustled out to his car and drove to his next meeting.
"Our plan is to be flexible, to have multiple contingencies," he said. "Because we have a relationship with the host committee, because I'm a volunteer captain, we have been in the meetings. We know where to be and what to do. Whatever door opens, we'll walk through it."
Mr. Garrett's preparations harmonize with a city preparing for the Super Bowl as if it were a debutante ball. Lead paint has been scraped from the Main Street Bridge, replaced by a coat of teal. Neon lights glow atop the bridge's steel frame towers, changing colors at night from rainbows to red, white and blue. Outside city hall, in a park where a Confederate memorial stands, workers sponge grout off new fountain tiles. The waterfront headquarters of CSX, the transportation corporation, have been sheathed with newly tinted windows, giving the building a more modern look.
Jacksonville's identity is entwined with religion. The Florida Baptist Convention is based here. Mayor John Peyton, an Episcopalian, recently opened an office of faith-based initiatives to channel grants to small religious charities.
"We're blessed in Jacksonville," said David Burton, director for evangelism for the Florida Baptist Convention. "Even our radio personalities and TV news anchors are very much strong and bold in their convictions, which slip out sometimes. We are very blessed here, whereas you go to some other cities in the nation where maybe the Super Bowl is being played, it seems like darkness, like the evidence of Satan is heavy there."
Methodists were the first to establish a congregation in Jacksonville, in 1832. Next came Episcopalians and Catholics. The charter Baptist church was organized in 1838.
"They're sort of like Winn-Dixie or CSX, two old-line Fortune 500 companies in town," said Jim Crooks, professor emeritus of history at the University of North Florida. "They're not overtly telling the city government what to do, but if the government did something to infringe on their rights, they would react behind the scenes. You have this sense that they're there and they have influence, but it's not directly manifested."
Mr. Garrett adapts his mission to Jacksonville's current religious environment.
"People are used to the more public kind of Baptists, holding signs saying 'Turn or Burn' or what have you," he said. "What we're trying to do is relationship-building. To us, this is all about showing love and care for our city and for those we encounter. We're using the Super Bowl as a catalyst to build relationships within our community."
In November, Mr. Garrett participated in a prayer walk similar to the Super March for Jesus. In his report to his advisers at the North American Mission Board in Georgia, he wrote that as he walked around the stadium, God seemed to open his eyes to areas of need and concern for the 83,000 people who will fill it for the Super Bowl.
"Then, God opened my eyes to the people that were there that morning, going about their routine jobs," he wrote. A parking lot attendant and her son were prayed for. A homeless man received a few dollars and a blessing.
Mr. Garrett added, "As we left, I realized the enormous work that was done that morning by a small group of Christians praying for God to open their eyes to the possibilities of ministry around them."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company