A police officer speaking before a congregation in First Call.

This year on April 7, Sydney Baptist Church finished transitioning into its new identity, First Call, ‘A Unique Church for Extraordinary People.’ The 110-year-old church voted in January to change from its traditional church model into its new model for a greater focus on its mission to help the thousands of first responders and their families in our community.

Senior Chaplain (Dr.) Daniel Middlebrooks, who is a retired military chaplain, noticed that some of Hillsborough County’s first responders wouldn’t go to church because they believed they didn’t fit in, that no one could understand their experiences or that their lives were too messy. Wanting to offer a safe place where they can be around people who understand them, decompress, express their thoughts and heal, Chaplain Middlebrooks was inspired to form First Call.

“It’s a growing congregation of first responders, their families and the community that, deeply, are devoted to taking care of them,” said Chaplain Middlebrooks. “There are a lot of great churches that take care of the community; what our primary target and focus is, is to take care of those who take care of our community.”

To accommodate the schedules of first responders, First Call altered its service times. Its services and messages are also designed with them in mind, focusing on personal resilience, spiritual growth, leadership development and the readiness of daily development for putting on the armor of God.

The church began its transition by installing three statues, called the Three Guardians, in front of a cross, which was built at the church’s beginning. Each statue represents a different kind of first responder. The left statue depicts law enforcement, in the middle is military and on the right is fire and rescue.

Through these statues, First Call acknowledges and celebrates all first responders in our community. According to Chaplain Middlebrooks, by standing at the cross, not only do the statues represent the congregation First Call is reaching out to, they also remind us that the foot of the cross is level and that all of us need to understand what it means to live under grace as well as live that grace.

First Call is located at 1510 Cre Rd. in Dover. For more information, visit firstcallsbc.com, call 652-8178 or email Chaplain Middlebrooks at chaplain@firstcallsbc.com.

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Taylor Wells is a relatively recently hired news reporter for the Osprey Observer, having been with the paper only since October 8, 2018. Aside from writing articles, he helps edit and upload them to the Osprey Observer site, and is always available to help other staff members in his spare time. He graduated from Saint Leo University with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing and lives in Valrico.