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Church closes doors to serve others

Church closes doors to serve others

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church closes doors to serve others

By Erik J. Alsgaard | July 8, 2009 {1042}

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Christ Church United Methodist closed its doors recently and no one could have been happier about it than the church’s pastor, the Rev. Phil Roughton.

A woman picks up one of more than 200 pairs of shoes that were given to homeless individuals and families at Hope Central. Volunteers also gave away free haircuts and clothing. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #09-1240.

The 2,500-member church canceled all five of its normal worship services one weekend in May and invited people to “be” the church, rather than just “do” church, Roughton said.

The congregation participated in “Serve. Everybody.” — a weekend during which more than 1,000 people immersed themselves in ministries to serve others.

“This church has had a heart for serving for a long time,” Roughton said. “But it’s obvious these weekends that we’ve done … that God is stirring in a new and deeper way in our life.”

Christ Church held its first weekend off from regularly scheduled worship services last year. This year’s initiative offered more than 100 projects in which people could participate. They focused on four areas: public schools, poverty/homelessness, foster care and Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s all about getting people out of the pews and into the community to serve in the name of Jesus,” said Pat Burton, chairwoman of the Serve. Everybody. steering committee. “We serve a mighty God, so we’re called to serve; we’re called to model Jesus who came to serve.”

“Salty service makes a difference in people’s lives — both those being served and those serving,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation.

Salty service is one of the five practices of The Methodist Way, a method of making and forming disciples of Jesus Christ that is being embraced by the Florida Conference and many other conferences in the denomination at the urging of The United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Pat Burton is chairwoman of the Serve. Everybody. team. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #09-1241.

“Salty service makes us ‘doers and not hearers only,’ ” Stiggins said, quoting James 1:27.  “Salty service connects the lives of disciples with the ongoing work of Christ in the world. Salty service restores credibility to those who would share a Gospel of love to a doubting world.”

Gail Johnson was doing just that when she served breakfast to dozens of people at Christ Church’s Pompano Beach campus on Sunday morning when she would normally have been in church. The Ohio native said, for her, serving others has become a way of life.

“This is what we’re supposed to do, serve others,” she said, resting between shuttling trays of food from the kitchen to the tables. “Once you understand it, it gets in your heart and you just can’t help but do it.”

The served and the servant: both changed

Christ Church member Fred Scarbrough knows firsthand how serving others changes lives. It changed his in 1995.

It was then, he said, that he was newly divorced and on his own for Thanksgiving. Not quite knowing why, he headed down to the nearby church to see what was going on and if its members could use some help. Scarbrough said he noticed a homeless woman there with her baby. He walked over to her and asked about their housing situation.

“She never looked up,” he said. “Just shook her head.”

The woman, Scarbrough said, had been picked up by the police for sleeping on the beach. She was receiving help through the local Salvation Army’s homeless program, but that meant she had only three days to find living arrangements for her and her 6-month-old. If she wasn’t successful, the authorities would find a place for her to live, but would take her child away.

“So I gave her $20 and my business card and said, ‘If you need me, call me,’ ” Scarbrough said. “The next morning when I got to work, my receptionist asked if I knew a woman named Kathy because she’d been calling every 15 minutes.”

That was the start of The Shepherd’s Way Ministry, which today is the largest provider of housing for homeless families in Broward County.

Church member Dave Montney makes peanut butter and honey sandwiches, which will then be frozen so they can be given to anyone who stops by the church needing a meal. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #09-1242.

“We’re not government funded, so we don’t have to follow their rules,” Scarbrough said. “So if you’re pregnant or have a teenager or have more than three kids, we’ll take you in where the others won’t or can’t.”

Today, Scarbrough leads the Serve team at Christ Church, the only non-staff, non-ordained person on the team.

“The reason I would do such a silly thing as that is because I had a vision,” he said. “I started feeling the Spirit tell me that I needed to get involved in the local church in a big way because God’s way of redeeming a lost world is through the church. We are living in a lost world, and so what can the church do about that to become relevant, to become significant in the community?”

Making connections

Both Scarbrough and Burton are adamant that any church, regardless of its size, can coordinate a “Serve. Everybody.” weekend.

“Only if the congregation wants to do this will it happen,” Scarbrough said. “It could be a group as small as 20 people. Pick four projects and go and do them. It will cost you a little money, but it’s really peanuts.”

Burton said the 2009 weekend was successful, in part, because the projects involved small groups of people — no more than five or 10 per group, rather than 30 or 40.

“The key is connecting people with their passion,” Scarbrough said.

That drew one member to the church, Scarbrough said — someone who wouldn’t normally darken the door of a church meeting or otherwise connect to the church. This person knew how to repair bicycles, however, and ended up fixing dozens of bicycles for the homeless, including bikes he had bought from second-hand stores that were then raffled off during a pizza dinner for homeless families Saturday night during the Serve. Everybody. weekend.

“You couldn’t pay him to do this, but he’ll do it for free because it’s his passion,” Scarbrough said.

The Rev. Fawn Mikel, minister of outreach at Christ Church, said becoming relevant and connecting to others is what the weekend is all about.

“We’ve been really intentional to find ways to connect with people,” she said, “not just a one-day connection, but a long-term connection. Everything we’ve done (this weekend) we’ve looked for ways to continue to be in relationship.”

The Rev. Phil Roughton holds up a bag of snacks and toiletries prepared for homeless people in the neighborhood. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #09-1243.

At one of the neighborhood schools, Mikel said, a team of volunteers painted a bright mural on what had been just a blank wall in the lobby, while other volunteers read to the students or had students read to them. In another project women and children sewed and repaired clothes at Taylor’s Closet. The clothes were then given to residents in foster care.

“Yesterday, we heard about one woman who was given a bottle of water on the beach during last year’s weekend,” Mikel said. “The bottles had our worship schedule and information about the church on them. This woman got a bottle of water and came to church the next Sunday. This year, she was serving at Hope Central.”

Hope Central, Mikel said, is a ministry that works in partnership with Christ Church to offer worship, food, a day care and other services for homeless families. The Shepherd’s Way is part of that ministry.

“I’m a firm believer that our church buildings are not for the churched,” Mikel said. “Our church buildings should always be for the unchurched. We should always be welcoming people in, to come to know who Jesus is and understand his love.”

As he stood preaching to members of the congregation who had gathered for a Sunday evening “celebration worship service,” Roughton offered his thanks and praise for the lay-lead effort. Someone reported that volunteers had read to 1,035 children, served 540 meals, performed 78 health screenings, provided 238 bags of groceries, repaired 1,700 pieces of clothing, installed new roofs on four homes and prepared more than 1,200 peanut butter and honey sandwiches that would be frozen and then given to anyone who stopped by the church needing a meal.

“This weekend caught me off-guard,” the pastor said. “I wept with joy for a God that puts a desire in your heart to serve others in Jesus’ name. Transformed lives — that’s what this was all about.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

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