A small-town church in Tennessee is receiving nationwide attention after honoring its local police department in a public ceremony with a gift of $1,000 for each officer.
The congregation, Lighthouse Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Tenn., wanted to encourage the officers in light of criticism police have received nationally in recent months.
All total, it cost the church $23,000 to honor Jonesboro’s entire police force of 23 officers.
The ceremony was so unique that Lighthouse Baptist Church pastor Perry Cleek was invited to the White House for a July 13 event on law enforcement.
“Our church watched over the last few weeks … the way that our police officers were treated all over the country,” Cleek said at the White House.
Police officers, he said, have “been demonized and disgraced and dishonored.”
“And we got our heads together and thought, ‘What can we do as a small church in a small town to honor our police, and to let our voice be known?’ … The voice of small-town America is seldom heard.”
Cleek and his church landed on an idea: a public ceremony honoring the local department.
“We went through the chief of police and the public safety director, and we asked them if we could hold a public ceremony on the steps of the courthouse on Main Street in Jonesboro, on July 4 at 11 o’clock in the morning, and present each member of the Jonesboro Police Department with a check for $1,000,” Cleek said.
Cleek said it “shouldn’t have” made national news, but it did.
“I think small towns all over America feel like we do: that we want our voice to be heard, that we love law enforcement – our local police officers,” Cleek said. “And if we can do something to support them and encourage them, then that’s what we want to do. And we feel very good about what we did.”
At least one officer, he said, donated the $1,000 to an elderly woman in need. Cleek said he received a note from an 83-year-old widower who said “one of the officers brought by a sum of money” so she could “pay my utility bills this winter.” The officer told her it was a gift from Lighthouse Baptist Church.
The pastor joked he was “thankful that it’s a small town and a small police department.”
“It was only 23 employees, so it wasn’t that big a hit,” he said to laughter.
Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Chalabala
Video courtesy: The White House
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.