BRANDON — Some thought Bell Shoals Baptist Church was cursed. Only months after senior pastor Forrest Pollock died in a plane crash, music and worship pastor Simeon Nix died of a heart attack.
Three months after Nix led Pollock's memorial service in the church's new 3,450-seat sanctuary, the church held a funeral for him.
"We felt like we were beginning to experience some significant healing just before Simeon died, and then we were thrown back into it again," said senior associate pastor George Thomasson, who has led the church since Pollock's death.
While it was a tough time, Thomasson said he thinks God is using the congregation's grief to teach the flock to trust God and to help others through hard times, he said.
"Maybe this happened so we can comfort others," he said.
In his office, an article about Pollock's memorial service hangs in a frame, and a photo book sits on the table.
Dawn Pollock, Pastor Pollock's wife, is now living three doors down from her parents in Oklahoma. Beth Nix, Pastor Nix's wife, is still in Brandon with their two adopted children.
"She's having a hard time," Thomasson said.
But even in the midst of pain, the pastor says that good, even unprecedented, things are happening. Fifteen local churches are helping to feed the hungry in Tampa Bay for a year.
It all started with Pollock's memorial service in May.
On May 17, several churches helped with the memorial service, taking care of children, tending a parking lot and greeting people at the door. Their help allowed all Bell Shoals' volunteers to attend the service.
It worked so well that at a staff meeting a week later, Bell Shoals' leaders wondered if God was showing them that he wants area churches to join together "and do what one church couldn't do alone," Thomasson said.
So when the Bay Life Church pastor, Mark Saunders, told Thomasson and the Crossing Church pastor, Greg Dumas, about the Feed the Bay project his church had been doing for two years, the two jumped on board.
Since then, it has grown to more than a dozen churches.
On Nov. 23, the participating churches will hand out a grocery list and shorten their services. They'll challenge their congregation to go to Sweetbay or Publix to buy food. At the participating supermarkets, trucks will be waiting to deliver the items to local food banks.
They hope to gather enough to supply area food banks for a year.
Thomasson said it's great to see churches of different denominations working together. They may disagree on the small stuff, but as long as they agree on the central ideas of Christianity, they can cooperate, he said.
The pastors of the participating churches are also planning a prayer retreat, Thomasson said. He hopes they'll be able to come up with more projects.
"We kind of see Feed the Bay as the acid test of cooperation," he said.
Bell Shoals leaders are also trying to meet new needs arising from the bad economy.
During a service a few weeks ago, those who have lost their jobs or are struggling were asked to come to the altar for prayer.
"The front was loaded with people," Thomasson said.
He said the church is planning support groups for people who have lost their jobs. Maybe the church will host resume workshops or guide people as they seek further training, he said.
The church is still looking for a senior pastor to replace Pollock. The bylaws require a committee to do a national search.
It could take 10 months, which was how long it took before they called Pollock, or two years, Thomasson said.
Asked if he's seeking the position, Thomasson declined a direct answer and simply said, "My plans are to be faithful, doing the next thing God wants me to do."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.