“God bless you!” We often hear these words from the people who come to get clothing at the Staten Island Moravian Clothing Distribution. When they first come in to wait their turn or when they say goodbye with their bags full of clothing, they shower us with this simple, personal benediction.
And indeed God has blessed us. For the past nine years, the four Staten Island Moravian churches have worked together to offer clean, gently used clothing to children and adults in our community. Our efforts have grown from 2004 when we served 83 children and a few mothers to 2012 when we served 1086 children and adults.
We collect clothing all through the Spring from the Castleton Hill Moravian Preschool, our churches and our friends in the community. In May, we spend several intense days sorting the donations by size and gender and then folding and boxing them neatly in preparation for our August distribution. In August, we take a whole day to set up our “store” and then we are open for a two day public distribution. During the distribution, our volunteers greet and check in clients, prepare snacks, serve as personal shoppers, give out school supplies and back packs, offer Moravian Daily Texts books, and help clients bag up their clothing at checkout.
Our goal is to make the experience of getting “new” used clothing as respectful and as much like shopping in a store as possible. Each size has clearly labeled table and rack space and the piles of folded clothing on the tables are labeled by type. More importantly, we want to honor our Moravian ethos of valuing community and building relationships.
All of our volunteers greet and warmly work with our clients but our personal shoppers get the best chance to offer one on one care and assistance for each client. They carry baskets, start conversations, and help clients find what they need for their family members. After working together, it’s not at all unusual for clients to leave their personal shopper with a hug and the words, “God bless you.”
Again, God has blessed us—not only by our Moravian resources but by the local ecumenical and interfaith partnerships that make it possible for us to answer Christ’s call to care for our neighbors in need. A local business supplies a moving truck and Boy Scout Troop 26 offers the muscle and energy needed to move our tables, clothing racks, supplies, and about 400 boxes of clothing to the distribution site.
The distribution takes place at Brighton Heights Reformed Church, a congregation ideally located close to a family shelter, several agencies, and major transportation lines. For three days, they let us use their fellowship hall where clients comfortably wait, their kitchen where we prepare food for our volunteers and clients, and a huge gym that’s perfect for setting up our own “department store.” And then there are the volunteers who fill out the ranks of the Moravian faithful: members of a Baptist youth group and Jewish, Reformed, Catholic, Episcopalian, and non-religious volunteers. Our friendship with them over the years have grown strong and deep.
But God hasn’t stopped blessing us. In 2008 when it became clear that the project had grown beyond what our local Moravian and ecumenical partners could handle, we started inviting Moravian mission teams to come and join us both for the sort and for the distribution. They have come from Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Their presence has blessed the Moravian community here on Staten Island with a larger sense of our own denomination. It’s uncanny the way we feel we’ve always known each other and that working together comes so easily and naturally.
This year, God blessed us yet again by spreading the circle even larger and sending us a mission team from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church from Port Royal, Va. Working together at the distribution made it possible for our local Moravians, our Moravian mission team from Christ Community Church in Maple Grove, MN and the Episcopal team to live more fully into the full communion agreement between our two denominations.
We were not only blessed to serve together but also to get to know something of each other’s traditions. In the morning at breakfast we read the Moravian Daily Texts. In the evening, we shared in the Episcopal evening prayer service called Compline. At meals, we took turns singing either the Moravian blessing or an Episcopal camp blessing. During Sunday worship, we shared testimonies about the ways we found God during the distribution. Finally, when we met for our last breakfast and prayer together, we sang Moravian hymn #447 blessing and sending each other forth. How was it to come together from different places and denominations?
Chris Fisher from St. Peter’s summed our feelings up well during worship, “I have to say that now I am proud not just to be an Episcopalian but to be a Christian.”
Through it all, God blesses us with a sense of wonder that we are not alone in our longing to answer Christ’s call to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked. We have each other and the hope and strength we gain as we join together doing God’s work in the world.
Lynnette Delbridge is co-pastor of Castleton Hill Moravian Church in Staten Island. Photos courtesy of Castleton Hill.
From the December 2012 Moravian Magazine