Like any good parent, Melissa Parrish was taking advantage of a teachable moment with her two young sons, Seth and Samuel, ages 8 and 9.
She was sitting with her family, including husband Chris, at an intergenerational event called Servant Sundays hosted by their congregation, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Charlotte, N.C. Together they were assembling comfort kits for children in foster care.
The boys had a question. What was foster care? They’d never heard of it before.
“And as I explained it to them,” Melissa recalls, “they both started to cry. It was hard for them to understand that kids their age can live in very bad situations.
“While Servant Sundays gave Seth and Samuel awareness about a situation [foster care], it also allowed them to move forward in action,” Melissa says. “I was grateful for that.”
Servant Sundays were launched as part of the 2009 Summer Sunday school program (followed by numerous “reunion” events) and will be part of the 2010 summer curriculum.
In addition to assembling comfort kits, members of all ages work side-by-side at these events to make care packages for homebound members, pack toiletry kits for a local rescue mission, serve meals to the homeless and create school kits for Lutheran World Relief.
Inspiring New Passions
Seth and Samuel are not the only members of St. Mark to feel the impact of Servant Sundays, says Wendy Roberts, coordinator of the program.
“These events have sparked new passions and encouraged members to continue serving,” she notes
For example, members are now volunteering at a local rescue mission, while others are interested in becoming a Guardian ad Litem, or a child’s advocate in court, after learning more about the program through Servant Sundays.
While planning each Servant Sunday, Roberts relies on a variety of resources of the churchwide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
“We’re living out the ELCA tagline: ‘God’s work. Our hands,’” she says. “One Sunday we highlighted care for creation, and used ELCA resources on climate change. I also included the ELCA Web site address on our materials so folks could do their own research.”
And as each week passed by, members commented to Roberts how much fun they were having. “Everyone wondered what we were going to do next,” she recalls. “The kids would get excited.”
Learning Opportunities for All Ages
Sarah Ingle, a grandmother of eight, describes the program as a “fun and joyful experience.”
Ingle, in particular, enjoyed working with the children. “They were so excited and quite capable of doing things,” she says. “They worked circles around us sometimes.”
The children also taught her “not to be so rigid,” Ingle observes. “They taught me that there is more than one way to do something. It was fun to see how they could think through something and say, ‘Why don’t you do it this or that way.’”
Servant Sundays built up community within the congregation, Roberts says.
“Everyone got to know one another while gathering around a shared mission. We expanded our understanding of our congregation being a family of faith, not just friends we see on a weekly basis.”
Roberts, who also has two young children, says it was important for the program to warmly welcome everyone in the congregation.
“Children can witness their parents and grandparents or older adults in the church taking an interest in caring for other people,” she says. “Hopefully, children will then begin to develop that compassion for God’s people.”