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Election Day: Churches assist, reassure voters

NASHVILLE (BP) — Praying, offering their church buildings as polling places and teaching new U.S. citizens to vote were among the ways Southern Baptists served their communities on Election Day (Nov. 6).

With 36 million Americans casting their ballots early this year, according to Politico, a “much-higher-than-usual” turnout for a midterm was expected, and opportunities to serve voters abounded.

In Kentucky, a Southern Baptist pastor who also is a chaplain at the state capitol in Frankfort is hosting a 12-hour, come-and-go prayer meeting in the capitol chapel. The gathering’s hours paralleled Kentucky’s poll hours, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.

“It is calming and reassuring [for voters] to remind themselves that God’s still in control and that He’s working and that He has a plan,” said Steve Weaver, pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort and state minister for Kentucky through Capitol Commission, a ministry to state and national political leaders. “Even if we don’t understand how [the election] turns out, He’s still in control. Going to a place set aside for worship is a good reminder of that.”

Judith Piazza, a Kentucky voter who attended the prayer gathering, told Weaver via text, “I needed this time.”

“To have the opportunity to petition our God for guidance, mercy and grace on this very day of choosing our voice in government is a blessing that we let flee from our minds too often,” Piazza said in written comments. “To use a chapel on the capitol campus for this occasion brings the price of salvation and freedom to the forefront of my mind and causes me to remember 2 Chronicles 7:14.”

Churches in Alabama and Mississippi told Baptist Press they opened their buildings to the community as polling locations. Among those churches was Grace Crossing Baptist Church in Madison, Miss.

“Anytime we can have the community on our campus, we want to welcome them,” Grace Crossing pastor Kevin Cooper said, noting the church has passed out bottled water to voters in the past when temperatures rose on Election Day.

In Richmond, Va., at least two churches helped new U.S. citizens navigate the voting process.

Grace Community Baptist Church ministers to Nepali refugees from Bhutan through a Nepali fellowship in the church. In addition to sharing the Gospel and helping Nepalese families acclimate to the Richmond public schools, the ministry includes instruction in voting and civics, especially when people become U.S. citizens.

Naturalized citizens often ask “tactical questions” like, “What’s a polling place?” and “I know I can vote, but what are the actual steps?” said Kevin Larson, chairman of the elders at Grace Community.

The Richmond English Club, a ministry of Staples Mill Road Baptist Church in Richmond, has met weekly the past three and a half years in the food court of a local mall. While there, they share the Gospel with immigrants through English conversation practice. The ministry also includes civics lessons. The program on election eve focused on voting.

“We want them to participate and engage and be comfortable” in the U.S., said ministry coleader Susan Fogg, a former International Mission Board communications staff member.

One member of the club, Savitra from Nepal, became an American citizen in the past year and voted for the first time Nov. 6. A ministry volunteer drove Savitra by her polling place Nov. 5 to make sure she knew where it was.

“She was so proud last night,” Fogg said, “to raise her hand and say she would be voting today for the first time.”