Texas: Beaumont congregation skips church to serve in the community

By Luke Blount
Posted Oct 3, 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.

Comments (9)

  1. Father Les Singleton says:

    Has any church attempted a SATURDAY work day? (I just hate to give up church. If we give it up one Sunday… then why not every Sunday)

    1. Weber Baker says:

      Seems to me this IS church……..

    2. Suzanne Lambremont says:

      Yes, Father Singleton, we have devoted four Saturdays of Service the past two Lenten seasons to a variety of projects. The volunteers who participated were from all age groups and interests and we have supported our local food bank, public garden maintenance, Boy’s Haven, Habitat for Humanity, Girl’s Haven, and Some Other Place. This past Sunday and the days following I have heard so many great responses and comments from our church family. I was a leader for just one project and look forward to hearing about the other seven mornings of service. I know that worship at St. Stephen’s will only benefit from the one Sunday we were Christ’s presence in our community.

  2. Nancy VanderBrink says:

    I think it’s an awesome idea!

  3. How much more glorious it would have been had they given up a day of work, or of school, or of housekeeping. If your treasure is made Monday through Friday, and the week-end is your rest, what sacrifice have you really made: leisure time, a ball game, Sunday dinner at Longhorn’s? Is the absence of these activities really a sacrifice, an offering to G-d?

    Such acts are commendable, but hardly rise to the level of Christian witness and testament. After all, I can think of few societies in which helping others was unusual, even in Soviet Russia, neighbors helped neighbors. In our own American History, from the time of building cabins, to raising barns, to the horror of September 11, 2001, people have given freely of their time and treasure simply to be good neighbors.

    And so, I simply ask this question while such acts surely are beneficial and vainglorious, after all I am reading about them, are the worshipful and sacrificial in nature? There is no doubt, in my mind, that they are well intentioned, but does a “good” act glorify G-d? Does merely being a kind and giving person justify salvation?

    By all means, I hope this congregation will continue in its good works, for it gives a wonderful example of how to answer the call to social justice which we hear so loudly through the New Testament, but good works without sacrifice… even atheists are known to perform them. I believe we are called to a higher standard. Our good works must always be sacrificial in nature, worshipful in intent, and holy in practice.

    Perhaps rather than others making an exception for St. Stephens, St. Stephens should make an exception for them, or would that have been too great a sacrifice? After all, how could those volunteer organizations turn down St. Stephens offer of help, even if it meant their volunteers had to give up their leisure time. No doubt, good was done and the help appreciated, but to what purpose? Call on your parishioners to join together in service to G-d and man on a week day, when it is a sacrifice, when something of value is given up and thus offered to G-d as an act of worship. Perhaps fewer would attend, but G-d, and those they served, would surely know what good comes forth from their heart… Matthew 15:15-20

  4. Zachary Brooks says:

    Hearing the Word of God preached on Sunday is our highest ethical duty as Christians.

  5. Richard Angelo says:

    Be DOERS of the Word and NOT hearers only!!! I think it is a great idea..

  6. Enough debate, “yes go to church, no go do good works”, let us get off of our collective rears and take Our Lord’s commissioning and go DO IT! You can pray anywhere, but you have to be seen by others so the Gospel Life can be witnessed by others. Who cares if its a Sunday or a Friday, or any other day of the week. Let’s stop talking about it and get out and do it. Our redemption did not happen because Jesus thought it over and debated it. HE did it, go and do likewise.

  7. susanne lenz says:

    This activity/idea is a breath of fresh air. This is the type of idea that brings people together…we can sit in the pews AND help outside on a Sunday. Thank you for exposing a fine, fine possibility for the common good…church and state 🙂

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