When the church bells ring on Sunday morning, July 31, you’ll find several local church sanctuaries empty. But this doesn’t mean they won’t be worshiping. “Most Sundays we worship God with words and music,” says Pastor Meg Newswanger of First Presbyterian in Maple Plain. “On July 31 we will worship God with our hands and feet, by serving others in Christ’s name.” Several area churches are joining together in a new inter church initiative called Sunday 2 Serve organized by the Westonka Ministerial Association, a monthly gathering of pastors from Westonka area churches and beyond. Perhaps you have seen the blue signs blanketing the town.
In place of regular worship services, churches are going out to serve people and needs in the community. Projects include things like making sandwiches for the homeless, raking leaves and cleaning houses of elderly and shut-ins, picking up trash along the roads, visiting people at a nursing home, painting fire hydrants, school improvement projects, assembling care kits for cancer patients, and more. In the words of Pastor Dave Abernathy of Mound Evangelical Free Church, “Churches exist not only to celebrate and communicate the gospel Jesus Christ, but also to demonstrate that gospel.”
The idea for Sunday 2 Serve came about when two churches discovered they were already doing this on their own, and the impact could be multiplied by inviting other churches into the fun. One of those churches was MainStreet Covenant Church led by Pastor Jeremy Berg, the current president of the Westonka Ministerial Association. “As our church name implies, MainStreet was started 5 years ago with the mission of bringing hope beyond the church walls and into the streets of our city,” says Pastor Berg. “To this end we have devoted a Sunday morning for serving our neighbors each year we’ve been in existence.”
The other church is Freshwater Community with campuses in St. Boni and Waconia. Freshwater mobilized their larger congregation to go out and serve last summer with remarkable impact. Over 600 people participated in 19 different projects in four different communities. “The experience blessed both those being served and those going out to serve,” Pastor Van Tassel remarks. “Its amazing to see how much can be accomplished in only a couple hours on a Sunday morning when we all come together as Christians.”
So far 8 churches are participating in Sunday 2 Serve this July including St. John’s Lutheran, Bethel United Methodist, MainStreet Covenant, St. Martin’s Episcopal, First Presbyterian, Freshwater Community, and Mound Evangelical Free. Mount Olive Lutheran is hosting an “after party” for participants to stop by between 11AM-1PM to enjoy food & refreshments, fellowship & testimonies, and family friendly musical entertainment by the Teddy Bear Band. One project is bringing generations together. MainStreet Covenant is partnering with Lake Minnetonka Shores (Presbyterian Homes) to enable young children to serve alongside the elderly in making sandwiches for the homeless at Lake Minnetonka Shores.
The people and organizations who have been touched by these efforts are eager to share their appreciation. One outreach MainStreet does is to the Meals on Wheels clients who often have disabilities and therefore needs around the house — especially spring cleaning and yard work. After having her house cleaned, one woman was holding back tears as she said, “Because of my disability, my husband has to do everything — buy groceries, cook, laundry, work a full time job — and the house just never gets cleaned. And I have to sit in the mess everyday all day, and can’t do anything about it. You have no idea how much this cleaning help means to me!”
Sojourn Adult Day Center has been another beneficiary of this outreach as crews of volunteers have come over to help clean their center in Mound the past couple years. Kari Johnson, Program Director at Sojourn, remarks, “By serving in this way, churches are saying “We see you! We’re glad you’re in our community! You matter to us so much that we want to give our time to bless your life! That is so powerful!”
A couple springs ago Christine Zachow, principal at Grandview Middle School, expressed her appreciation for a crew who helped clean up the school grounds: “I just drove by Grandview on my way home from a choir concert and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The flower beds look amazing! Thanks to your efforts, we can actually see and enjoy the sprouts that tell us summer is right around the corner. On behalf of our staff, students and myself, please pass along my thanks to your wonderful volunteers!”
In a world where the news cycle constantly highlights our differences and how they divide us, the organizers of Sunday 2 Serve hope to provide a beautiful display of unity as churches of different traditions come together around a shared mission to love and serve their neighbors. “St. John’s is excited to connect with other churches in the community as we address needs in our area,” says Pastor Jeff Heiderscheit. “I am encouraged to see the one, universal, Christian church standing shoulder-to-shoulder in our community.” Pastor Berg hopes that “everywhere people look that Sunday morning they’ll see people in matching light blue shirts making a difference all over our communities.”
Everyone is welcome to participate in Sunday 2 Serve. If you would like to participate (and your church was not able to participate this year), you are welcome to contact any of the participating churches above to get involved).