On the Saturday after the Fourth of July holiday, when lots of folks were winding up summer vacations, some longtime faithful volunteers at Indian River City United Methodist Church were doing what they do every Saturday: fixing cars.
Mark Peterson has been working with this ministry since it began 15 years ago. He said that services are offered on a first come, first serve basis, with people lining up as early as 6 a.m. to get help.
Peterson said that each Saturday brings its own challenges.
On that day, they serviced 11 cars in the 9 a.m. to noon time slot, performing routine maintenance, making repairs and connecting with their neighbors in Titusville.
|"Bring her on in!" Longtime volunteers of the car care ministry at Indian River City UMC are ready for business. Shown left to right: Wayne Lewis, Bill Kidd, Jerry Hayes, Mark Peterson and Ray Chalfante.|
Some of the usual needs are brake jobs, spark plug change outs, window repair, oil changes and brake lights. More recently, they replaced a serpentine belt—used to drive multiple devices in an engine, things like the alternator, water pump and power steering.
Over the years, the crew has learned to treat incoming cars much like an emergency room triage plan, assessing the cars’ issues according to the amount of time needed to do repairs.
The volunteers have also learned a thing or two about the people who come for help.
“We realized that many times, car problems are just the beginning of people’s problems,” he said. A lot of the clients are from low-income homes, many times single moms or widows.
Although the focus of the ministry is not necessarily to gain new members, Peterson said, the folks they help with oil changes and brake lights may learn about Christ as well.
“They may ask why we do this service, and we just tell them we’re here to serve…because God has called us to help people in a very practical way,” said Peterson. “We’re concerned about their spiritual life, but if somebody is stressed out because their car is unreliable, we can do something about that first,” he said.
Church members Ray and Alice Chalfante were the founders of this ministry and still work with it today. Ray is a retired engineer and Alice takes care of the office and paperwork and does a lot of interacting with customers.
In the beginning, volunteers used their own tools; within the last couple of years, they have built a carport with both a full-size and small-size lift and upgraded tools. They also have a scanner that can read computer codes for diagnoses.
The ministry has its regulars and new customers come via word-of-mouth. There’s also a notice of the car care ministry on the church’s marquee every Saturday.
“In Titusville, our church is known for the car care ministry,” said Peterson.
Local repair shops sometimes refer customers to the church when they need help that they can’t afford. When there’s a problem that’s too complicated for the ministry, they refer them to outside help.
The ministry also has many cars donated, which they fix up and sell below blue book prices, working with people to help them pay over a period of time. The new owners also learn how to keep their cars running.
“If a car needs tires, and we have some that fit, we’ll put them on…people count on these cars to get to work and school, and we help them do that,” he said.
All the work is volunteered and donations are gladly accepted, but Peterson stressed, the ministry is self-supporting and always has been. Sometimes they go the extra mile, like a recent case when a person was living in the car and needed to get it fixed.
“We bought the part for them and fixed it,” said Peterson.
The ministry continues to seek new volunteers and will train anybody willing to serve and get dirty.
“We figure that God’s given you talents, and it’s up to you to find out how you can do something with them,” Peterson said. “You can do anything to glorify God.”
--Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta