Saturday morning on an Edenton Street sidewalk in downtown Raleigh, one could see the faith of two very different Baptist congregations at work.
A handful of members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., believed it was their duty to carry signs condemning gays, dead soldiers and Elizabeth Edwards, whose funeral was about to start a block away. Their presence attracted local and national media, as well as hundreds of counter-protesters. Amid all the barricaded, police-supervised craziness and a few feet away from the Westboro clan, members of the First Baptist Church-Salisbury Street steered a line of people into their church for their sixth annual Toy Joy event.
All year, the congregation collects Christmas presents to give to families who frequent the church's clothing ministry.
The organizers, Amy Prakke and Kristie Ford, said the program started six years ago when a family who came for clothes mentioned they weren't going to have Christmas that year.
"We're called to be compassionate to people who are hurting and in need," says Christopher Chapman, the First Baptist pastor. "It's one tangible way of expressing love and kindness to people."
That belief translated Saturday into more than 300 families taking home presents for almost 1,200 children. The parents, the first of whom got in line at 1:30 a.m., were allowed to pick one age-appropriate gift for each of their children and as many books and stuffed animals as they wanted.
Some of the church's 150 volunteers then wrapped the presents for each family and also sent them home with stockings.
The contrast of faith in action was not lost on Chapman.
"It was a very interesting juxtaposition of Christian views - and two Baptist churches' views," he said.
Although Chapman appreciates First Amendment rights, he said, "To me, this kind of hateful expression at a time of death is incredibly insensitive."
His congregation has strong affection for the Edwards family.
Not only did they open their parking lot to the funeral attendees, but one of Edwards' daughters was recently involved in a church member's wedding.
The Westboro church's expression of faith, Chapman said, "is 180 degrees opposed to what we are."
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