Texas: Beaumont congregation skips church to serve in the community

October 2, 2013
Volunteers work at the Giving Fields, a local community garden.

Volunteers work at the Giving Fields, a local
community garden.

[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] St. Stephen’s, Beaumont, left the pews on Sunday, Sept. 29, and took over the community, volunteering for non-profit organizations for their first “Service Sunday.” More than 165 parishioners split up into nine teams, tackling projects that ranged from tending a community garden to visiting the elderly.

“It was an incredible, incredible day,” said the Rev. Nancy DeForest, rector. “There was just so much joy and a feeling of blessedness.”

St. Stephen’s opened its doors for the regular 8 a.m. Eucharist on Sept. 29, but canceled the 10 a.m. service, encouraging everyone to take part in Service Sunday. Though many non-profit organizations are closed on Sundays, organizers worked with the local organizations to make an exception for St. Stephen’s.

With the event organized by St. Stephen’s deacon, the Rev. Pat Ritchie, volunteers could choose between several projects including feeding the homeless in the local park, making home repairs, volunteering at the humane society, and helping with meals on wheels, among other opportunities.

“This was a real different thing to do, telling people not to come to church,” Ritchie said. “I wasn’t positive if everybody would be receptive to that, or if they would just use the occasion to go to the beach. But we had great participation from our church and a great response from the community.”

There were more Service Sunday participants than the average church attendance. According to Ritchie, many of the church members had never experienced volunteer work before and have asked to repeat the event again or learn about becoming at regular volunteer. The church holds service Saturdays during Lent, but this was the first time a church service was replaced by the volunteer experience.

“One of our goals was to give a taste of volunteering to the people in our church,” Ritchie said. “I feel like this is what Jesus called us to do – go out into the world and serve. This is really making a statement both to our congregation and the community that this is something extremely important to St. Stephen’s Church.”

Each team was given a commissioning to go out and serve the community as well as some scripture and prayers. An envelope was also passed for an offering to the church. With the success of the event, St. Stephen’s plans to replicate Service Sunday next year.

For more photos, visit St. Stephen’s Facebook page.

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