ORLANDO -- It was a reach across the miles, across cultural differences, across generations and across church membership rolls big and small, as Methodists throughout the five-county East Central District joined hands in volunteer service this past weekend.
|Members of Palm Coast UMC collect trash from Flagler Beach as part of East Central District's SundayServe ministry. Photo by Susan Green.|
Side by side and wearing red shirts, they decorated and packed gift bags, delivered food to the needy, painted homeless shelters and youth facilities, sang at nursing homes and plucked trash from waterways, beaches and streets.
District Superintendent Wayne Wiatt didn’t need to see the final tallies for participation to declare East Central’s first SundayServe “a great success” that he hopes will be repeated next year. He said it might even serve as a model for Methodists across the conference.
The idea of encouraging worshipers to join in simultaneous community service was “really to inspire people to connect in this connectional church of ours,” Wiatt said Monday, the day after the event.
“We thought the best way to do that might be through service.”
Reports were still trickling in Monday, but more than 2,000 people of all ages in at least 75 congregations district-wide responded to the call. Most moved their worship services to 9 a.m. Sunday and then reported to service sites with other churches at 10 a.m., followed by “Return and Rejoice” luncheons around 1 p.m.
|Luzibu Nsakala, left, and her husband, Nsakala, team up to collect trash at Flagler Beach as part of East Central District's SundayServe event. Photo by Susan Green.|
Wiatt said the suggested blueprint didn’t work for all churches, so they were invited to tailor their plans to meet their own needs. For example, some were celebrating significant anniversaries or did not want to move their worship service on All Saints Day weekend.
He participated in a cleanup of Wekiva Springs by kayak with Sanlando UMC, Longwood, and Christ to the Nations, Orlando, on Saturday, then helped pack bags for the hungry at South Street Ministries on Sunday. He was encouraged to see people of all ethnic backgrounds gather together for service.
”It was out of the box,” Wiatt said. “A lot of folks did something. … I hope it’s going to instlll a wonderful call to service in all of our local churches, and hopefully become part of the culture.”
Rev. Clare Chance, pastor at Broadway UMC, Orlando, was a lead organizer of the event for the district. She said even shut-ins were given a prayer list and asked to do their part between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“I know they were praying for us,” she said Monday. “I know that’s why it went so well.”
She gave credit to God for how well the nearly 400 service projects went.
“We served so many people, we remembered what it means to be connected as United Methodists, and we all felt the Holy Spirit in our midst as we served,” Chance said.
“I had so many people tell me it reminded them of why they were Methodists.”
Rev. Matt White, pastor of New Hope UMC, Windermere, who also helped organize the event, said the New Hope children’s choir sang gospel songs and read books to residents at a nearby assisted living facility. He is now discussing setting up an ongoing ministry there.
|SundayServe organizers found service opportunities for everyone who wanted to participate. Facing forward, from left to right, are Trish Arthurs and Jean and Bob Gritman of Community UMC, Daytona Beach. Photo by Susan Green.|
Participants in Volusia and Flagler counties said they were impressed with the opportunities provided for everyone to get involved. At Community UMC, Daytona Beach, youngsters and those not able to get outside decorated paper sacks for food and Christmas gifts and put together plastic bags with personal hygiene items for the homeless.
Others took the sacks to the streets to give away, and still others staffed the church clothes closet, which normally opens on Wednesdays but this week added Sunday in honor of SundayServe.
Volunteers from Stewart Memorial, Daytona Beach; Tomoka and First UMCs, Ormond Beach; and Covenant UMC, Port Orange, joined the group at Community.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Trish Arthurs of First UMC, Ormond Beach. “Hopefully it will show people, besides our love for the Lord, what a community can do when it’s brought together.”
Pat Dietrich of Community UMC stayed busy directing people to the right stations.
“There’s so much need in the community,” she said. “This gets some people involved who weren’t already involved.“
|United Methodists spruce up the Joe R. Lee Boys and Girls Club in Eatonville as part of East Central District's SundayServe. Photo by Don Youngs.|
Community’s pastor, Ken Zimmerman, said he hopes SundayServe will inspire more churchgoers to engage in ministry.
“I think it’s great if it continues on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and throughout the week,” he said. “It’s not just a one-day celebration but every day.”
Nearly 20 miles to the north, Methodist teams combed a 3-mile stretch of Flagler Beach, picking up trash and pulling debris from the grass and shrubs on the shoreline.
Linda Selman, who has been attending Palm Coast UMC since August, said she was impressed that organizers came up with projects to appeal to just about anybody. She and her husband, Trevor, participated in the cleanup along with their two children, ages 13 and 11.
“Everyone is serving where they feel comfortable,” Selman said.
Also new to the church were Nsakala and Luzibu Nsakala, who scoured the brush near Highway A1A for trash.
“It’s giving back to the community,” Nsakala said. “We come to this beach quite often. It should be clean.”
Tom Byrne and his wife, Anne, coordinated SundayServe efforts in the Flagler area, including sending choirs to assisted living facilities and fire stations and setting up a special food giveaway at a Bunnell food pantry run by eight churches of different denominations.
|Bette Rountree, left, and Carol Katsolis of Flagler Beach UMC pack a grocery bag for delivery to the needy as part of East Central District's SundayServe. Photo by Susan Green.|
About 100 people received full grocery bags of donated food during the one-hour event, Byrne said.
Inside the food pantry, Bette Rountree and Carol Katsolis of Flagler Beach UMC helped SundayServe participants clean refrigerators and coolers and organize shelves. Rountree said the pantry usually opens for two hours four days of the week and typically serves 30 to 60 families in need.
“I like the idea that they had all the churches participate and had a variety of things for people to do to get out in the community and just be a witness,” Rountree said.
Rev. Kevin James, Palm Coast pastor, looked out over a sea of red shirts as he welcomed a crowd of returning volunteers to a church-owned picnic pavilion to enjoy refreshments and entertainment. He said he was pleased with the turnout as he sank into a chair to relax and try not to think about the televised football game he was missing.
“I know folks are committed when they get up early on a Sunday morning and come out to serve and give up their usual Sunday activities,” he said, “and especially pass up NFL.”
Susan Green is editor of Florida Conference Connection.
Rev. Jim Berlau, pastor at South Street Ministries and a SundayServe leader, put out Post-It notes for volunteers to make comments. Here are some of the responses: