‘Heroes Weekend’ Honors Public Safety Personnel

Post a Comment » Written on December 4th, 2008     
Filed under: News
WOODLAND, CA (December 4, 2008) – Two recent events offered by Bayside Covenant Church Woodland initially were met with skepticism by the people they were meant to honor and assist, but both ultimately received enthusiastic receptions.

Bayside OneThe fourth annual “Heroes Weekend” was held November 23 and drew 400 people including leaders of the law enforcement and safety agencies, says pastor John Withem. Another event – an anti-violence program in the local schools – has helped lower rising tensions, he adds.

Withem came up with the idea for the weekend four years ago after talking with two law enforcement officers in a diner. The pastor says he discovered how discouraged they and fellow officers were because they did not believe the community supported their work, and because of some bad press the department had suffered. “They’re a little more beat up than we imagine,” he says.

Still, when Withem proposed the idea of honoring the public safety employees, leaders of the various agencies sent low-level representatives and did not express a lot of enthusiasm. Now, he says, “They came to me to see if could do Heroes Weekend statewide.”

At the most recent event, the agencies brought roughly 20 vehicles that kids could climb on to have their pictures taken. The vehicles included trucks from four fire companies. Law enforcement officers offered car-seat safety checks.

“They simply won’t accept kudos as a premise for showing up, but if you make it a win-win where they can give some public information, then they’re all over that,” Withem says.

The church meets at Pioneer Township High School, and the school’s choir sang the National Anthem as well as another piece during the morning’s two worship services. Members of each of the agencies were called up front and were presented a check of several hundred dollars for their agencies’ favorite charities.

SpeakerThe worship service included a video tribute to law enforcement officers who have died, including Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Diaz, who was killed while making a traffic stop past June. His daughter attended the service as did the mother of a California Highway Patrol officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2006.

Instead of a traditional sermon, Withem gave an eight-minute “non-evangelistic” talk that called on the attendees to “honor, stand with, and celebrate their heroes.” Attendees also made public declarations to pray for the agencies on a daily basis. “These officers are just overwhelmed,” Withem says.

“The weekend has definitely improved the public relations between the community and public law enforcement,” Withem says. He and several officers will present a seminar teaching other congregations how to sponsor Heroes Weekends. The seminar will be given at the Bayside Church Thrive leadership conference in April 2009. Click here for a story on the 2008 conference. http://www.covchurch.org/cov/news/item6253

Bayside Woodland participates in numerous community activities, says Withem, who is the chaplain for the Pioneer Hills football team. “We’ve been determined to embrace the city’s calendar and celebrate it with them.”

The church supplies all the sound and other technical equipment for the downtown Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Withem relates that one city councilman told the audience, “I want to thank Bayside for making this happen. If you don’t know who Bayside is, Bayside is the city’s church.”

Bayside also tries to be involved with the local schools, but when the church offered to put on a program at both high schools and two other schools, all of the administrators other than the Pioneer principal balked.

Bayside Two“We got three pleasant ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ responses,” Withem recalls. Even though teachers who attend Bayside continued to promote the idea, the administrators remained cool.

Still, Bayside scheduled an assembly at Pioneer. Two weeks before the September event, only Pioneer had committed to participate. The resistance of the other administrators changed after a student was shot near a local park and a large fight broke out at a local continuation high school several days later.

Multiple assemblies were held. In addition to Pioneer, they were presented at Woodland High School and two middle schools. The need for the events was emphasized when, on the day of the assembly at Woodland, the school actually went on a “modified lock down” after a false rumor spread about a student having brought a gun to school.

Donny Burleson, pastor of Bayside Life Church in Sacramento, was the special guest speaker. A longtime popular speaker at youth events, he delivered an anti-drug, anti-gang, and pro-dream” message, Withem says. “It is not at all religious, and it was hilariously funny,” he adds.

He invited students to a Wednesday night youth rally called Represent that was filled with activities, but at which he also would spoke and shared his faith. According to Withem, 1,000 students attended and 350 responded to an altar call.

Withem says the head of security at Woodland told him that violence is “way down” since the assemblies.

Editor’s note: The accompanying photos came from one of the student assemblies. Burleson is shown in the center photo.

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