DUNEDIN — In 2005 when Pastor Raymond Hawkins became spiritual leader of the Pentecostal Lighthouse of Dunedin, he brought some big ideas to the small church and began implementing them right away. Mainly, he said, he wanted to show love to those in need.
"Brother Hawkins is a people-person and the answer to our prayers," said Shirley Scott, who was married to the late Paul Laughlin, the first pastor, who founded the church on his own land in 1981.
"This church has changed under Brother Hawkins," she said.
Those changes began with what Hawkins calls ministries.
"The ministry is a way of connecting to people so they don't feel abandoned or go into depression," he said. "People don't care what you know until they know that you care."
Reaching out to the hungry, the lonely, the elderly and others in need is what Hawkins calls the "theme" of his small 55-member congregation.
A food pantry was the first ministry Hawkins established, in March of 2006, four months after his arrival. He affiliated his church with Pinellas RCS (Religious Community Services), which supplies some 50 member churches with food, much of it donated by local grocery stores and bakeries.
Hawkins' church supplies bags of food to about 100 people each month.
"A bag is basically designed to provide one meal," said Scott, "but it covers more than that."
Each bag contains cans of meat, vegetables and fruit, along with pasta, rice, bread and miscellaneous items such as nuts or fruit juice. Special treats are given for Halloween, Easter and Christmas.
Work goes on behind the scenes for weeks before the monthly food distribution. Volunteers arrange and date all canned goods to be sure they are distributed before the expiration date. Individual bags of food are prepared one week before the monthly distribution — one bag for one to three individuals and two for families of four or more.
"We serve anyone in Pinellas County," said Hawkins. "If they have a need we will support them."
Thirty Pentecostal missionary families receive the largesse of the Dunedin church as well. These families serve in Africa, Eastern Europe and other locations overseas.
In 2007 members raised $50,000 for those families, earning the church first place in the nation for per capita giving by the United Pentecostal Church International, the parent organization for Pentecostal congregations.
"We pour our lives and spirits into others so they can be strengthened," said Hawkins, who added that his church continues to contribute about $600 a month to the national UPIC for those families.
Then there are what Hawkins calls "soul menders" — ministries for church members themselves. Among these is a senior ministry run by Scott, offering day trips for older congregants, and a phone ministry staffed with volunteers who call all members every two weeks just to see how they are.
The Dunedin pulpit was not on the horizon for the 55-year-old minister, who was about to become dean of a small Bible college in Mississippi in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the school.
Hawkins, a former Marine and later an Air Force chaplain, looked around for other opportunities. He learned that the minister of the Pentecostal Lighthouse of Dunedin had resigned, so he and his wife, Linda, decided to check out the position.
"It took a hurricane to get him here," said Scott.
One year after assuming the church pulpit, Hawkins also became a chaplain with Suncoast Hospice in Palm Harbor.
"I wanted to be there with people and help them cross over at the end of life," he said.
Hawkins puts his heart into all his ministries.
"Loving and listening are the most vital part of any ministry," he said. "When I think how good God has been to me, I want to give back."