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Members skip church to work in neighborhood instead

Members skip church to work in neighborhood instead

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Members skip church to work in neighborhood instead

April 18, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0658}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

A member of River of Life United Methodist Church near Jacksonville puts together AIDS/HIV caregiver kits during what would normally be the church's worship time. Members decided to "be the church" by doing outreach activities for the community, instead of having a worship service that morning. Many volunteers wore T-shirts that read: "Don't go to church. Be the church." on the back and "Faith in action." on the front. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #07-0565.

JACKSONVILLE — Members and friends of River of Life United Methodist Mission near Jacksonville were warned: Do not come to church Feb. 25.

In fact, the more than 200 people who would normally attend worship on a Sunday morning were told to stay away. Instead of sitting in worship and “doing church,” they were invited to “be the church.”

“We wanted to do missions and outreach, locally and globally,” said the Rev. Kim Cott, the church’s pastor since it began as a new church start in 2000. “We wanted to blanket the area and really do some powerful ministry in one day.”

The congregation, which had been primed for the day through a four-week series of sermons, small group discussions and e-mail reminders, dispersed throughout the community, showing God’s love to a diversity of people.

The church was part of a pilot program called “Faith in Action,” through World Vision. According to World Vision’s  Web site,, the organization is a “Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.”

Cott was at World Vision’s National Outreach Convention in San Diego last fall when she first heard about the program. She applied to have her congregation be a pilot church and was accepted this winter.

“It’s been neat,” she said. “People seem to be very excited. Sure, some people will see this merely as a ‘Sunday off,’ but many others have jumped right in and gotten involved. Our response today makes me wonder if once a year doing this isn’t enough.”

Members made sandwiches for migrant workers and prepared lunch for the homeless in St. Augustine. Another group prepared AIDS caregivers’ kits at the church, while others worked on home repair projects and washed cars. That evening they gathered for a special worship celebration.

The kit-building at the church served two purposes, Cott said: a mission project at a location people were familiar with, plus an opportunity for any visitors at the church.

“When visitors show up, we’ll be ready,” Cott said. “We’ll invite them to get to work.”

Faith in action

“Rather than have our regular church services today, we are going out into the community and being the church,” said Joan Howell, the church’s mission’s chair, who was also overseeing the AIDS kit assembly. “All the money we raise today will be to help with world hunger, especially in Africa.”

David Ferguson made the 20-mile drive from the church to St. Augustine to work at St. Francis House, which provides an on-going ecumenical ministry to the homeless and those in need of food and a place to stay.

“We’re here to be the church this morning,” he said, after helping make 200 sandwiches and unwrap dozens of “TV dinners,” separating out the fish sticks, brownies and other food items that would serve lunch to nearly 80 people. “It’s been a great experience, and I know that it’s opened my eyes to a lot of other opportunities that are going unmet. As Christians, we’re called to go out into the community and to serve and to do things like taking care of the homeless and the orphans — all the stuff that’s in the Bible that we say, ‘Yeah, somebody’s doing that.’ Well, no. It’s left up to us. Once we know about it, we’re responsible for it.”

Members of all ages were able to participate in River of Life United Methodist Church's initiative to reach out to their community Feb. 25 by doing local service projects, like washing cars, instead of having a worship service that morning. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #07-0566.

At a car wash set up behind the neighborhood Walgreen’s pharmacy, Nathan Clem surveyed nearly two dozen youth and adult helpers washing cars. More than $500 was received in donations, all of it earmarked for missions.

“This will really jump-start our mission program; that will be the biggest long-term outcome of all of this,” said Clem, who has been a member at the church since its earliest days. “Now, how much of this will stay long term, remains to be seen. But to have so many people come out and give of their time, more than just the hour that the worship service would be, is a very encouraging sign; it’s very good to see.”

Future impact

In an e-mail sent after the event, Cott said church volunteers went back to the homes they worked on that Sunday and installed smoke detectors, and a plumber worked in the home of a 92-year old woman who is blind and hadn’t been able to use her shower or flush her toilet without it overflowing for almost a month.

“It’s very exciting because the whole Faith in Action feeling is continuing to make a difference,” Cott wrote.

Clem, who walks with a cane following a stroke last year, smiled that day as the cars continued to queue for a wash.

“When this program came along, it was very important to get as many people involved as we could because it would instill in them what it takes to (do mission),” he said. “Now they’ll realize, ‘It’s not so tough’ and think they can do it. People will get the message, and the result of this will be that all these people … their involvement in mission will be more intense in the future. I think they’ll understand and they’ll be more willing to go out.”

Cott would one day like to see more area churches brought into the mix, “so on that one day, we can blanket the area and really do some powerful ministry throughout the community.”

For Cott, the day of not holding worship made a clear statement: “Missions and outreach, evangelism and being the church are important.”


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.