ELCA members lend their hands for ELCA’s dedicated day of service

9/18/2015 11:20:00 AM

​     CHICAGO (ELCA) — Equipped with paintbrushes, shovels, power tools, knitting needles and musical instruments, thousands of members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) gathered across the country Sept. 13 to lend their hands in service to share God’s love as part of “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday.
     The dedicated day of service provides the nearly 10,000 congregations of the ELCA with an opportunity to build on the work they do in their communities every day. Members of all ages – many wearing bright, yellow “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday T-shirts – organized and participated in a multitude of service projects. The activities included cleaning parks and roadsides, assisting at local shelters, helping with home repair, writing letters to shut-ins and military veterans, preparing meals, and delivering cookies and thank you notes to emergency responders. Although the day of service was primarily observed Sept. 13, many congregations schedule activities on other dates throughout the year.
     “Of course, in our vocations we are serving neighbors every day, but when we are serving together, we are growing together as the people of God,” said the Rev. Jason Adams, pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church in Las Vegas.
     Adams said volunteers between the ages of 8 to 74 organized a community car wash, picked up trash at a local park and made blankets for Family Promise of Las Vegas, an organization that assists families who are experiencing homelessness.
     “On Sunday, God’s love sounded like the whine of the engine of a leaf blower, the slosh of water in the sink as the refrigerator shelves were washed, and the clink of toiletry bottles being sorted into bins,” said the Rev. Christina Auch, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Shelby, N.C. “It smelled like fresh paint and wood chips and maybe a little sweat. And it looked like an aunt painting a doorframe with her middle school niece, three widows organizing a storage room, and three generations of one family – a grandmother, mother and her two middle school sons − painting cubbyholes.
     “And through it all, we all said, ‘To God be the glory,’ because how else can we explain the holiness of the time we spent together?”
     Volunteers from Ascension helped make a difference for the residents of the Cleveland County Rescue Mission’s Heart2Heart Place by putting the final touches on the newly renovated shelter that will house women and children.
     “A special thanks is due to Pastor Christina and the team of volunteers from Ascension Lutheran Church for the wonderful job you did at Heart2Heart Place,” wrote Michael Gullatte, executive director, Cleveland County Rescue Mission. “The painting, hanging blinds, planting flowers and putting together beds were especially appreciated. The extra time and effort you put in were certainly worthwhile. It will help our future residents find healing and wholeness in Christ our Lord.”
     “Like many other ELCA congregations, the members of Zion are eager to make a difference in the lives of our members, in the community and wherever God’s spirit leads,” said the Rev. David Peters, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Tinley Park, Ill.
     Volunteers from Zion prepared 200 meals for those who work with The Night Ministry’s health outreach bus. The Night Ministry provides services for people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Chicago. The congregation also assembled toiletry kits for those in need and Sunday school families made thank you cards for local firefighters.
     “This congregation is always ready to put prayers into action with the help and support and assistance we can offer,” Peters said. “‘God’s work. Our hands.’ Sunday provided a wonderful opportunity for our congregation, which is a church for all generations, to give and share. Young and old, our folks can’t get enough of these invitations to go out and do something in Jesus’ name.”
     In Racine, Wis., 300 volunteers from nine ELCA congregations joined forces to volunteer at 15 sites in and around the community. Members cleaned weeds near the aviary at the Racine Zoo, painted at the community playground, planted native grasses and plants at a nearby coastal wetland, knit hats and mittens to give away, and played music for residents of a local nursing home.
     The Lutheran congregations from House of Grace in Montrose, Minn., Spirit of Joy in Buffalo, Minn., and Our Father’s in Rockford, Minn., joined together on a number of projects including cleanup and improvements at a local mobile home park. The Rev. Kimberly Buffie, pastor of House of Grace, shared a Facebook post written by a woman she met at the mobile home park.
     “I just had the best encounter with people who don’t know anything about me,” the woman wrote. “The House of Grace Church, along with Montrose City Council member Michele, just brought me to tears for their devotion and kindness and hard work in cleaning the area around two empty trailers next to mine. I am deeply moved by their actions and the selfless actions. God is still alive.”
     Serving their community in Compton, Calif., members of Pueblo de Dios Lutheran Church distributed donated produce and provided free dental cleanings, blood pressure checkups and haircuts for their neighbors.
     In an article, the Rev. Samuel Nieva, pastor of Pueblo de Dios, described the impact of the day of service on the local community: “The emphasis of ‘God’s work. Our hands.’ Sunday as a public witness to our faith, (an) initiative of social action in our Lutheran church one Sunday a year. God’s people welcome with great joy and work, (in) yellow T-shirts, smiles, hands ready to serve and hearts willing to be God’s hands for the community, was the spirit of this festival in (the) village of God.”
     For many congregations, the service activities focused on communities far from their neighborhoods. Volunteers from St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Sellersville, Pa., helped make dresses and shorts for children who live in a village in the West African nation of Togo, where one of their members was raised.
     “My biggest hope is that as we do things like this we start seeing our friends in Togo as brothers and sisters in Christ,” said the Rev. Julie Bergdahl, pastor of St. Michael’s. “We know their names. It widens our sense of church in the world and it expands our sense of ‘we.’ It’s no longer ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It’s ‘we.’ ”
     At Holy Communion Lutheran Church in Fallston, Md., volunteers helped harvest apples from a local farm that supplies fresh produce for those in need.
     “We may not get to see who will enjoy those tasty apples, but through God’s work we are connected,” said the Rev. Chasity Wiener, pastor of Holy Communion. “From the hands that plowed, to the hands that harvested and finally to those who received, by God’s hands we all are fed,” she said.
     On Aug. 29, Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Allen, Texas, helped paint a Habitat for Humanity House in McKinney. David Dick, the congregation’s chair of evangelism and outreach, said the impact from the day of service “will encourage continued, ongoing support of our members for more of this kind of outreach, where we actually reach out and touch someone such that they benefit from our work or contribution. Both sides benefit greatly, the giver and the receiver.”
     Later this fall, volunteers from Cross Roads Lutheran Parish, a four-congregation cooperative in the ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod, are organizing a day of service for local farmers “who feed the world during harvest-time,” said Elayne Werges, diaconal minster for Cross Roads.
     Members from the four Lutheran congregations – St. Luke, Nora Springs; Faith, Mitchell; St. John’s, Osage; and Rock Creek, Osage – will visit cooperatives and grain elevators to distribute lunches and coffee to famers working to unload grain. Communion will be made available and greeting cards containing prayers and information about the congregations will be given.
     “The impact of ‘God’s Work. Our Hands’ Sunday on Cross Roads Lutheran Parishes has been to remind us that we are connected to a community outside of the four walls of the church building,” said Werges, who added that the day of service “also reminds us as the priesthood of believers, that our call is to serve God and God’s people, especially those on the fringes, the hungry and the lost.”
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God's work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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