By Carrie Madren (from Interpreter Online)
|Corlis Moniz, Clothes to Go director, take a break from sorting coats at Faith Fellowship United Methodist Church. The ministry was key to moving the nearly-closed church to a vibrant congregation.|
Four years ago, two women at Faith Fellowship United Methodist Church in Mansfield, Mass., decided to create a free women's clothing boutique. Uncertain if it would work, Linda Jacobson and Joyce Niemi sheepishly asked the Rev. David Arruda if they could house the new ministry in one of the smaller rooms in the church.
To date, Clothes to Go has shipped more than 450 tons of clothes worldwide, across the United States and regionally to more than 60 other churches and non-profits that work with homeless people. Locally, the boutique opens every Saturday to about 40 families. Organizers have helped replicate the ministry in five other United Methodist churches.
The idea of a small spark igniting meaningful, ongoing ministry is part of the momentum behind "Change the World," a weekend of church-led service, organized through The United Methodist Church's "Rethink Church" initiative. The annual May event created by United Methodist Communications supports thousands of churches as they reach into their communities, breaking down barriers and showing God's love in a tangible way.
"We can change the world not by going out and doing big things, but doing little things that make a big difference," said Arruda in a 2010 online video promoting the weekend of service.
Churches organizing for the third annual "Change the World" weekend on May 19 and 20 are planning food drives, community cleanups, fundraisers for Imagine No Malaria, letters to service men and women, nursing home visits and myriad other projects. In 2011, more than 2,000 United Methodist churches in the U.S. and 15 other countries served their communities, personifying the love of Christ. More are expected to participate this year.
Many congregations discover outreach through "Change the World," "Impact Community" or similar events sparks new or expanded interaction with people outside the church that becomes a way of life.
|Volunteers at Central United Methodist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga., fill food boxes to be distributed throughout their community.|
|SUSAN HUGHES/CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH|
That was true for Central United Methodist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga. Organizers coordinated some 200 members serving in 15 different ministries during the church's first "Change the World" event in May 2011.
"People were sharing. There was an air of excitement," said the Rev. Keith Goodlett, senior pastor.
"Another church did it with us, so it was the start of a communitywide change," said Susan Hughes, coordinator for older adult, youth and children's ministries at Central.
Participants handed flowers to people who worked on Sunday, baked cakes in jars for overseas soldiers, assembled food boxes, cleaned up the city park, washed windshields and assembled goody bags for prisoners and care packages for needy children. Central repeated the weekend of service in November and will again this fall.
Before the event, Central had had a home repair ministry and a ministry to homebound people. "Change the World" weekend encouraged other members to become involved in community outreach, Hughes explained, to "sign up and get out there and know what it's like to serve other people."
Goodlett was part of the team picking up trash in November.
|(BELOW) Fillling cleaning buckets was among the projects for "Change the World" participants in Sikeston, Mo.|
"People asked what we were doing, and we had the opportunity to share," he said. The team encountered men who don't go to church but seemed taken by what Central's members were doing. "I think we made some connections," Goodlett said.
The weekend inspired two dozen people to start TLC (Tender Loving Care). They reach people in the church and community with cards, visits and other help. A light car maintenance service for single mothers will begin soon.
In late April 2011, two United Methodist churches in Sikeston, Mo., inspired over 1,000 people to do random acts of kindness: pumping gas and washing windows, bagging groceries and retrieving shopping carts, cleaning parks and cemeteries, making repairs on dozens of homes, visiting nursing homes, delivering goody baskets to emergency personnel and more.
"We are a 144-year-old church that has never really been outwardly focused," wrote Brad Aycock of First United Methodist Church in Sikeston, Mo., in an online message. He coordinated "Hope Epidemic 2011."
"This event united our church like never before," Aycock wrote. "We are now a much stronger unit and looking forward to continuing to impact the area for Christ. Young, new leaders have emerged from this event ready to serve their church and community in new ways."
"Change the World" has had a role in transforming other churches.
In El Paso, Texas, St. Mark's United Methodist Church was part of "Change the World" weekend for the first time in 2011. The church focused on Houchen Community Center, a United Methodist ministry-serving people of all ages in impoverished El Segundo barrio.
Some 200 people spent the day serving lunch, painting, organizing the food pantry, cleaning up the exterior, landscaping and more.
Serving leads to visits
"It really spurred on camaraderie, (providing) an avenue for us to come together in a different way ... to work together as a church," said Brenda Smith, children, adult and family ministries director at St. Mark's. "Some that came and helped invited their friends and that brought some people into our church," says Smith.
Planning is underway for a bigger "Change the World" event this year, including sites where families can serve.
The weekend also connected St. Mark's and Emmanuel United Methodist Church, a small downtown congregation that had been looking for a larger church with which to partner. The two congregations will work with the Rio Grande Conference to help Hispanic churches in the area.
Clothes to Go was the first step in moving Faith Fellowship in Massachusetts from a church slated to close in 2006 to a vibrant congregation. In addition to the four dozen regular worshippers, Arruda estimates some 250 people outside of the congregation are involved in church ministries.
"We are breaking denominational barriers," he said. "These servants from the local Catholic church (and the) Hebrew temple are coming in and volunteering at the clothes ministry and other ministries." Those include a card ministry, a food ministry, helping families with moving, cleaning houses and offering fuel assistance and car repair services.
The garage technician with whom Faith Fellowship works doesn't charge for labor on repairs for individuals the church is helping. In turn, congregants patronize his business and give referrals. He's part of the ministry without even knowing it, Arruda explained, and one of many community connections.
|(LEFT) Clothes to Go volunteers sort donations at Faith Fellowship United Methodist Church. The ministry was key to moving the nearly-closed church to a vibrant congregation.|
"We would call it ‘networking' in the world, The United Methodist Church would call it ‘extension ministry' and Jesus would call it ‘that's what I was talking about,'" said Arruda.
He's planning another "Change the World" weekend for Faith Fellowship this spring.
As they serve in the community, "Change the World" organizers want their service to shine a light on Jesus.
"As we give help, we also want to give hope," said Goodlett. "We want people to know why we care about them, why we want to serve him."
Carrie Madren is a freelance writer based in Olney, Md.
"Change the World" connects United Methodists around the world through local projects and fighting malaria in Africa through Imagine No Malaria, www.imaginenomalaria.org.
Resources to help plan and advertise "Change the World" events are available at www.umcom.org/rethinkchurch. Congregations are encouraged to register their events to allow others in the community to participate with them. Churches registering by April 16 will receive a free marketing kit that includes a lawn banner, sermon series DVD and T-shirt.