BUFFALO, N.Y. (BP) – Faithful Stones Church Pastor Mark Hamilton has observed three stages of grief in the neighborhood he serves surrounding Tops Market, the site of a racially charged mass shooting that killed 10 shoppers May 14 a year ago.
“There are at least three groups I’ve spoken with – those that moved on, those trying to move on, and those who may never move on,” said Hamilton, a Reformed Baptist pastor partnering with Southern Baptists to minister to the community. “So with each of these the goal is the same, to help them see the hope, love and peace found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Hamilton, in partnership with Send Network church planter Eric Napoli, will host a community outreach block party from noon-4 p.m. May 13 in his church parking lot as the community continues to grieve. The outreach follows monthly block parties held through November 2022 and resuming on a monthly schedule on the anniversary weekend of the tragedy.
Sheridan Parkside Community Church in Amherst, a church plant of Amherst Baptist Church that Napoli pastors with Scott Gillette, is sponsoring the outreach in partnership with Hamilton, North Buffalo Community Baptist Church and the Frontier Baptist Association.
“We wanted to make sure that people knew we didn’t forget about them,” Napoli said. “It’s part of what we wanted, to have a continuous touch upon the place. It really is … just trying to build up that corner with a sense of hope. If we can grab the attention of people and let them know that there’s a community church right there at their corner, then all the better.
“We determined last year we did not want to be specifically tied, or only tied, to the shooting. But it really just needed to be a wake-up call for us that there’s more that needs to be done in that neighborhood around the calendar.”
A prayerwalk, one-on-one evangelism, fellowship and games are on tap for the “We Love Jefferson Avenue” event, Napoli said. Scheduled to join Napoli and Harrison at the event are North Buffalo Community pastor Bill Smith, Frontier Baptist Association Associational Missionary Michael Flannery, and missionary Ben Hand from Ridgewood Bible Church.
“I think overall there’s a very sensitive spot on people’s hearts about this tragedy,” Napoli said. “But on the other side, I do think people are doing OK.” Amid continuing court cases, the community is enduring by caring for one another, Napoli said.
Payton Gendron, a 19-year-old white supremacist from Conklin, N.Y., pleaded guilty in November 2022 to multiple counts of first degree murder and one count of domestic terrorism motivated by hate. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in February. A man in the courtroom lunged at him and had to be subdued, CBS reported. Gendron faces 27 federal counts punishable by death, with a trial set to begin in July.
On May 14, 2022, Gendron began shooting outside the Tops Market on Jefferson Street in Buffalo, continuing his gunfire inside, targeting shoppers “because of the perceived race and/or color of such person or persons,” a grand jury said in indicting him. He killed 10 Black shoppers and injured three others, one of them also Black.
Tops will recognize the anniversary by closing for the day on May 14, reopening the following morning. The City of Buffalo has planned a series of anniversary events including a memorial church service for healing and hope, May 14 at 6 p.m. at Elim Christian Fellowship.
Napoli and Hamilton, a bivocational pastor, had already began partnering to reach the Buffalo community nearly a year before the shooting occurred.
The two offer the Gospel as a healing balm for those continuing to grieve.
“We pray,” Hamilton said, “the community experiences the joy of the Lord through His joyful and selfless servants. To the one who has moved on or at least appears to have done so, we celebrate and commend them to keep working and believing. We encourage them to get back to church and stay connected with a community of folks helping and being helped.
“To the one trying to move on, I remind them to stay the course and realize for them it may require more time; but insert yourself with those who will hold you accountable to press on and fight for your freedom of mind and soul.
“Lastly, to the one who may never move on,” Hamilton “offers a Gospel call to turn away from this world and the relentless disappointments. Turn to Christ our only hope in life and death.”
Monthly outreaches are planned as financial support allows. While many groups responded to Buffalo in the weeks following the shooting, Napoli said enthusiasm relaxed as additional mass shootings occurred across the nation.