Best Citizen (2006)

Rev. Garth Thompson, Miami Beach Community Church

Reverend Thompson has been preaching from the pulpit here since 1974, and in 32 years has put the "community" in the church's name in both word and deed. He began by encouraging blacks, Hispanics, and the homeless to join a congregation of what one current parishioner calls "a very well-gloved ladies-who-lunch crowd." Thompson threw himself, and his congregation, into community works -- hosting regular hot meals for the homeless, cleaning up Lincoln Road before it became Lincoln Road, and raising money for students who wanted to further their education but couldn't afford it. A fluent Spanish-speaker from his time preaching in Puerto Rico, he reached out to the Hispanic community during South Beach's grittier cocaine cowboy years, and he has steadfastly created public interfaith dialogues with leaders from Jewish and Muslim communities. The reverend does not adhere to any rigid doctrinaire teachings, believing "God is still speaking" and that the messages in the Bible are still evolving. To that end, he welcomes gays and lesbians to the church, and he preaches against the kind of fire-and-brimstone morality that drives so many people away from their childhood pews. The beautiful white stucco church and its visionary pastor prove, even smack-dab in the middle of South Beach, that some things -- depth, commitment, and community building -- are not only possible but also eternal.


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