Have you ever had the feeling that your congregation was too small to do a great big mission ministry? Maybe you’ve felt as if the age of your congregants would prevent any amazing ministries from happening. Well, I can assure you that if you trust in what God is calling you to do, even a small church can do phenomenal work.
In February of 2013, four members of Mountainview Moravian Church in Hellertown, Pennsylvania decided that it would be a good idea to volunteer for a day at the major clothing distribution effort hosted by the Moravian congregations on Staten Island. We loaded into our car and headed to Castleton Hill Moravian, the center of the distribution effort.
The time that we spent in New York was great. We learned all about how their distribution works and about all of the people that they have helped in the past 10 years. On the drive home, I asked the women in the car if they thought our little church could take on a ministry like this.
After a few minutes of brainstorming, we had the building laid out. We knew that women’s clothing would go in our largest available space and that the Sunday School rooms would hold the children’s and men’s clothing. We figured out how we would go about collecting clothing, sorting clothing and how the distribution would work. We were excited…all we had to do was to get the rest of the congregation on board.
At our anniversary worship service a few weeks later, I shared with the congregation that our local food bank currently had 637 clients and that there was a need for clothing among these clients. The congregation was shocked to learn that the number was that high: how could our little community have that many people in need?
I asked the congregation what they thought we could do to help. After letting them ponder that for a minute, I said to them, “As followers of Jesus Christ, we turn to scripture for guidance and counsel. In the Gospel of Matthew we read, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)
I shared with them the dream of the four Staten Island travelers, to have a clothing distribution ministry at Mountainview. I walked them through how the process would work from collection, to sorting, to distribution. I asked them to please sign up for any of the different steps that they would like to help with. I was shocked to realize that 75 percent of the people in worship that day signed up to help, with the remaining 25 percent agreeing to pray for the ministry but due to physical limitations, they were unable to help.
With support of the congregation, we applied for a new Mission Ministry grant through the Eastern District Executive Board and we rejoiced and celebrated when we learned that we would be receiving $5,000 to make this dream mission become a reality.
We had every intention of following through with this Mission Ministry whether we received the grant from the EDEB or not. We believed that God was calling us to this ministry and we knew that the grant would help us purchase 260 boxes to store and then display the clothing, six new tables, 45 clothing racks, 15 laundry baskets for collecting and sorting, eight 55-gallon storage containers for clothing collection and 1500 hangers.
We spent two months collecting clothing through various drop-off locations around Hellertown. We had collection bins at the Methodist Church, the Episcopalian Church, the two UCC Churches, the three Lutheran Churches and the chiropractor office that everyone in town seems to go to. For the second distribution in January, we also had collection bins at the public library and at the local dance studio.
In the first month the collection of clothing ended up being a pile that was three feet high and took up half of a Sunday School room. The second month brought in even more clothing and that pile ran the length of our Dayspring Room (fellowship hall) and was at least three feet deep and anywhere from two–five feet high. Needless to say, we had our work cut out for us.
With volunteers from 10 churches (Moravian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist and a Jewish Synagogue) in addition to Mountainview we worked a total of 15 days, 13 hours and 45 minutes to sort by size and gender, check for holes/rips/stains, and fold for storage in order to be ready for the distribution. That amount of time does not include the hours spent assembling racks, setting up for the distribution days, hosting the distribution days and cleaning up afterwards.
On the distribution days, which included three days in August and then three additional Saturdays in January/February, we were able to provide clothing for more than 400 people. In addition to the people receiving clothing we were able to provide backpacks and school supplies for over 50 children.
Knowing that we would have individuals waiting for their turn to “shop” we had our basement set up with snacks, magazines and coloring books to keep people entertained while they waited as well as a lunch of hotdogs, chips and lemonade outside for after they were done shopping.
Many of our volunteers were moved to tears by the stories of struggles and hardship that the families had endured. Seeing little children leave our church with backpacks full of school supplies brought joy to our hearts.
Our Mission Ministry continues to grow and unfold. We now house an emergency clothing bank for anyone who is in need. Area pastors as well as other local agencies are aware of our supply of clothing and our willingness to help everyone in need. Through our emergency distribution we have helped more than 25 people including two families that lost everything in house fires.
We at Mountainview have been truly blessed by this ministry. We have heard God’s calling and we have stepped up to the plate to follow his direction. Our prayer is that other churches, regardless of their size, would be willing to take a leap of faith and step out of their comfort zone to do the work that the Gospel calls us to do. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned and by doing these things you will not only be following the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Always preach the Gospel—use words if you have to,” but you will also be the hands and feet of Christ on earth.
Jodie L. Harney is pastor of Mountainview Moravian Church in Hellertown, Pa.