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Church gives new meaning to phrase ‘church service’

Church gives new meaning to phrase ‘church service’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church gives new meaning to phrase ‘church service’

By the Rev Denny Heiberg and Lucila Crena | May 8, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — More than 600 worshipers from several area churches did not go to church Sunday morning April 19. They were the church.

A small boy hands a bottle of water to one of the residents of Tent City, a wooded area outside Gainesville, Fla., where hundreds of homeless individuals live. Photo courtesy of Grace at Fort Clarke United Methodist Church.

After gathering for a brief time of singing, instruction and prayer, the congregation of Grace at Fort Clarke United Methodist Church headed off into the greater Gainesville community to demonstrate their love for God by serving others.

Grace joined two other area churches, Passage Family Church and Gainesville’s Hispanic Baptist Church, shifting from the conventional worship to instead experience service as worship. Participants engaged in 12 predetermined ministry opportunities in order to display the church as the hands and feet of Jesus to the Gainesville community.

The event, called “Faith in Action,” asked churchgoers to serve throughout the area in various ways. Opportunities included making prayer quilts for patients and their families, visiting the residents of three nursing homes, prayer-walking dangerous areas of the city, and shelving books at the Friends of the Library Book Sale.

One team made the home of a young, unchurched single mom, more energy efficient, while another did major home repair work for a family dealing with the effects of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. More than 150 participated in a clean-up effort in Tent City — an area where hundreds of homeless individuals live. They went in family groups with children, as well as individuals, filling dozens of trash bags, while holding conversations with the homeless residents. In another poor section of downtown Gainesville, nearly 100 volunteers set up a festival with free food and games for families. At another site a medical team held a free screening for area residents.

One of the most transforming events of the day was giving Christ Mission and its after-school tutoring program, called PrimeTime, a makeover. PrimeTime provides tutoring and after-school care for 200 families who live on less than $400 a month.

“We want to help people in real need,” Grace member Paul Emery said. “We want to remind people that you can’t do the work of a church within the walls of a church.”

As Grace transitions from being the typical “attractional” church to becoming an “incarnational” mission community, its members hope this kind of mission outreach event becomes a regular form of worship each quarter.

While the day was a blessing for many in the community, it was clear it also impacted each volunteer. As they gathered that Sunday evening to reflect and celebrate the “wins” of the day, many shared how privileged they felt at having had the chance to participate in the event. Children served alongside their parents; parishioners served alongside people they had never met before.

A text message sent to the pastor summed up the experience: “I am so proud to be a member of Grace! Thanks for helping me remember how important and refreshing it is to be the hands and feet of Christ.”