Pictured Above: The Power for Living Ministries church is located at 1710 52nd St. S, Gulfport. (USF/Kristen Boehm)
By Kristen Boehm
In a neighborhood in Gulfport, one church has kept its doors open for in-person services throughout the entire pandemic.
Pastor Ulysses Burden Jr. founded Power for Living Ministries with his wife, Annette, in 2003. When the pandemic began forcing communities to harbor at home, Burden knew that closing the doors would mean putting a stop, or at least a pause, to that almost two-decade passion.
“We didn’t do Zoom, ‘cause I don’t know how to do it,” said Burden. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Jetsons or The Flintstones. Well, I just graduated from The Flintstones.”
Pastor Ulysses Burden Jr. at the head of his church. (USF/Kristen Boehm)
The church serves a predominately Black, multicultural congregation with about 60 active members. There are services for youth and adults, as ages range from young to elderly. And every third Saturday for 18 years, the ministry has given away donated clothes, food and appliances to the communities it serves.
None of this means Burden kept his services in-person without consideration. The night before Easter in 2020, Burden went into prayer about whether to keep his doors open or not.
“I said, Lord, do you want me to close these doors? Because I don’t want to endanger none of your people,” recounted Burden.
When he held Sunday morning worship the next day, he said he felt the glory and the presence of God in the house, and saw miraculous healings for his congregation. So the doors stayed open.
Knowing that this choice was right for his ministry, but also the harder path, Burden and his church family did their best to make sure they stayed safe. They installed automatic hand sanitizer dispensers and taped up the chairs and floor to show safe six-foot distances. They wore masks, and they even put a stop to their tradition of each person giving out three hugs at the end of every service.
“We did everything the CDC said to do,” said Burden. “It’s very important that you go by the guidelines, and then go by the word of God. You have to have a very balanced approach.”
Inside Power for Living Ministries, you can see the tape marking six foot distances. (USF/Kristen Boehm)
Burden believes that these measures have helped keep the church open over the past year. While some people did stop attending, others came in off the street or from other churches, grateful to find an open place of worship. The church saw an increase in donations, mostly from members’ tithes and offerings, which eased the monthly strain of meeting the rent on the church building.
The current location, 1710 52nd St. S., is actually the fourth home of Power for Living Ministries. The ministry began with 6 p.m. Sunday services after Burden’s mentor, the late Pastor Greg Powe of Revealing Truth Ministries, released him to preach out of their St. Petersburg location. When Revealing Truth did not renew the lease, Burden and his wife continued their ministry out of their own home in south St. Petersburg.
When they were able, they began renting a small, but well-maintained, church in a storefront in central St. Petersburg. But after a period of hard times and falling behind on the rent, they lost the church.
“January the fourth, 2012. I remember that day because I was in tears,” Burden said.
Unable to bring the larger congregation back to their home, they began holding services in a conference room at a Comfort Inn. It was an adjustment. They moved Sunday morning services from 9:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., because another ministry came in at eleven o’clock.
“We kept our ministry going,” said Burden. “We lost a few members along the way, but we stayed committed.”
A little over a year later, Burden was approached by a pastor who owned a blue and white church in a homey neighborhood in Gulfport. The two men struck a deal that included the first month’s rent being free. And for the past seven years, Power for Living Ministries has served its community out of that church.
Part of that service is the ministry’s outreach. It includes going out “soul-winning” every first Saturday of the month, and a small-goods drive held at the church every third Saturday.
“We bless the community,” said Burden, who listed clothing, shoes, food and even small appliances among the things that get donated and then given away by his congregation. “You don’t have to be a member to come and get that. We give it to everybody… The more we release, the more comes in.”
A group of ladies, church members and non-members, will bring a bag of clothes to the church every Wednesday. A man in Clearwater will donate hams, turkeys and chickens once every month or two. One guy once brought an entire trailer of mens’ coats. And they’re all given back to the community.
To Burden, who grew up in Jordan Park in the 1960s, community means supporting one another. He considers giving back a part of worship, and encourages his church members to give away items they find valuable.
He’s also hoping that one of his members will be able to provide another service as part of their worship – bringing Power for Living Ministries into the virtual space.
“We need somebody in the congregation to step up, ‘cause it’s out of my league,” said Burden.
Currently, the church staff do record some services on a Galaxy Note9 smartphone, but they don’t get posted anywhere. They have a website with the necessary information. Burden’s son just set up a Facebook page for the church in March 2021, but the page is not publicly available yet.
Burden believes that if they had been able to provide virtual services during the pandemic, they would have been able to reach more people and gain broader recognition. He said that if they have to, they’ll hire someone to help with their social media. But he isn’t too worried.
“Everything that was lost in 2020, it’s going to be restored, and some more,” Burden said.
With that look towards the future, the ministry will continue.
Power for Living Ministries is located at 1710 52nd St. S, Gulfport. It holds Sunday morning worship at 9:30 a.m. and Wednesday night Bible study at 7 p.m. every week.