Involvement in the community is an essential element in most every church, but an article posted on Beliefnet.com last week reported an interesting endeavor that takes community service a step further. Calvary Community Church in Sumner, Wash., and Sanctuary Church in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., both canceled their recent Sunday worship services in favor of community service projects.
The two churches participated in a four-week course in conjunction with the "Faith in Action” program. The following Sunday after the course’s completion, they were encouraged to get involved within their communities as opposed to attending a typical worship service. Recently, Sanctuary visited senior living centers and spent time with the elderly, while Calvary’s response to community service was equally successful and positive.
The trend continues in other parts of the country as well. Grace Community Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla., had nearly 90 percent of the regular church members in attendance for their day of action. This blog highlights their involvement within the community. The congregation built picnic tables for a foster home, cooked meals at a crisis pregnancy center and helped out at a local school.
Earlier this year, the North Coast Church hosted a Weekend of Service devoting their Saturday and Sunday worship to more than 90 community service projects. This article expands on their reasoning behind the weekend.
According to a story in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Covenant Community Church in North Carolina also canceled three of their morning services when the minister, Claude Kayler, said, “Don’t go to church. Be the church.” Covenant’s service projects included cleaning toilets in convenience stores, repairing chain-link fences at a daycare and assembling care packages for the homeless.
Steve Hambrick, Executive Director of the Central Florida Wesley Foundation in Orlando, Fla., commends the concept. “Church is not defined by the four walls,” he says. “The idea of getting outside the four walls that we’ve created in our culture and going to those who actually have need is a much clearer picture of what true, New Testament Christianity is supposed to look like.”
In the past, The Wesley Foundation has been involved in numerous volunteer activities that encourage community relations, such as catering to the children at foster homes and bringing potluck lunches to the homeless of downtown Orlando. The organization has yet to cancel weekly services for community service projects but offers other days to focus on communal relations.
While some praise these churches’ feats, others aren’t so sure. One anonymous commenter on the article “Churches Cancel Services to Serve” asked why the congregation insisted on canceling worship services altogether instead of offering both a Saturday volunteer program and a Sunday service.
Most churches find that the level of participation for community service is higher on Sundays, but the “Faith in Action” website says, “If your church is unable to plan community service events on Sunday, plans may be adapted for Saturday, or immediately following a regular Sunday morning worship service.”
Hambrick says that the danger lies in a once-a-month, outward expression of community service that doesn’t carry over to tomorrow. “If it doesn’t become part of our daily lifestyle, then it’s not as productive as it can be,” he says.
Stacey Armstrong, Community Development Director for Calvary, would like to make servicing the poor and needy a vital part of her congregation. Each of the churches expressed their hope to expand projects and encourage the events to reoccur. Kayler says, “It’s not just this one-day thing.”