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Denomination will give lots of food to poor

Members of the Assemblies of God will hand out 280,000 pounds of food to those in need, along with spiritual guidance.

The 2.5-million-member Assemblies of God, now meeting in Orlando, is a Christian denomination that takes seriously the biblical obligation to feed the hungry.

Friday, the last day of its biennial convention, delegates will begin distributing 280,000 pounds of food to Orlando's poor.

Local churches, social service agencies and community leaders have been enlisted to help organize the two-day event at the Citrus Bowl, distributing fliers in nearby neighborhoods. Sponsors expect about 14,000 people Friday and Saturday.

In addition to passing out the bags of groceries at Tinker Field, about 1,500 youth volunteers will staff carnival games, rides and a petting zoo. Adults from the denomination will provide health screenings and job-placement counseling, as well as an inspirational evangelical message.

"We are poised to minister to people, not just in spiritual aspects of their needs, but in the physical needs in their lives," said the Rev. Thomas E. Trask, the Protestant denomination's elected leader."

"We believe that with the ills and needs of society today, the church holds the answers and is able to address the questions that people are asking," said Trask, pastor of Central Assembly Church in Springfield, Mo.

And those problems, Trask told more than 10,000 delegates Wednesday, are considerable.

"We see what has and is happening here in America as a result of a nation spewing out filth and violence and taking God out of our schools," he said. "Now we have a generation of young people who are distraught to the degree that we have multiple shootings in our schools, resulting in scores of deaths of young people and teachers."

Denomination officials predict little in the way of controversy at the convention. Resolutions condemning pornography and same-sex marriages are expected to pass overwhelmingly.

In 1996, the Assemblies of God leadership voted to endorse the religious boycott of the Walt Disney Co., citing "films, events and books that we believe have contributed to the deterioration of decency and morality."

However, the denomination did not change its plans to meet in Orlando this year. Distancing themselves from the protest, convention leaders have decided to make no mention of the boycott during the convention, leaving the matter to the consciences of delegates.

There are nearly 100,000 members of the Assemblies of God in Florida, according to the denomination, in more than 500 congregations. The largest church in Central Florida is Calvary Assembly in Winter Park, with about 2,500 members. The denomination also supports 17 educational institutions, including Southeastern College in Lakeland, headed by the Rev. Mark Rutland, former pastor of Calvary Assembly.

As Pentecostals, members of the denomination believe in speaking in tongues, healing by faith and the literal truth of the Bible. And from their beginning in U.S. revivals early this century, they have ordained women.

"We feel strongly that women have a place of ministry in this church," Trask said. "It goes back to our roots."

What is relatively new to the Assemblies of God, based in Missouri, is its evangelical outreach to Hispanics and other minority communities in the United States.

Trask said that, like other denominations, recent growth in membership in the Assemblies of God is due almost entirely to Hispanics and other minorities.