By Cindy Novak
“Worship is cancelled. Join the service!”
And there is.
After months of planning and preparing, nearly 700 members, staff and friends of Bethany will descend on the Denver area May 22 to serve at more than 20 ministry sites instead of attending regularly scheduled worship.
The congregation’s first Be the Blessing Day will “allow us to be the hands of Christ in our community (and) to share our spiritual gifts with our neighbors,” says Ron Glusenkamp, senior pastor at Bethany.
The idea came to Jessica Harris Daum, Bethany’s pastoral intern, last fall. What would happen, she wondered, if Bethany members were encouraged to show the same generosity with their time as they were with their finances? She believed this was an opportunity for the congregation to grow even deeper in service.
And after sharing her thoughts with Ron, his response was immediate and enthusiastic: “I’ll go you one better. Let’s cancel church so we can make (this) happen.”
More than 1,000 miles away
Redeemer Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Park Ridge, Ill., canceled worship services May 15 to allow staff, members and friends to participate in 15 service and evangelism activities through its third-annual Faith in Action Weekend.
“We think of it as a don’t-go-to-church, be-the-church weekend,” says Fred Nelson, pastor of Redeemer, who saw that phrase on a T-shirt a few years ago.
“We talk about how, of course, we go to church. We do that 51 weeks of the year,” he says. “It’s important that we worship God and develop our relationship with God. But being the church — going out to share the good news by word and deed — also is important.”
Both Bethany and Redeemer made it a priority to plan their service events so all can participate regardless of age, physical abilities and interests.
“We have tried to provide a good mix that could capture the imagination,” Ron says. “This gives people a real opportunity to figure out how they could use their spiritual gifts to serve Jesus.
“We didn’t want it to be a one-size-fits-all,” Fred says. “Different people are wired in different ways. We wanted to provide opportunities to let people follow their passions.”
Service activities at Redeemer included cooking and delivering meals at a shelter, praying with inmates a correction center and more.
At Bethany, service opportunities will include visiting residents of nursing homes, painting the inside of a local food pantry, serving breakfast at a rescue mission and more.
Both congregations planned their events with time for devotions and prayer at each of the service sites. In addition, Bethany will hold its regular 10:30 a.m. worship service, inviting members who attend to pray for those involved in the day’s outreach.
When Fred talked about the Faith in Action Weekend with other pastors, he said he got some negative feedback. They seemed skeptical about the idea’s success and told him “they couldn’t get away with canceling worship,” Fred says. But that hasn’t been Fred’s experience at all. “Our people (at Redeemer) don’t bat an eyelid. It has become a part of the fabric of our life together. And I don’t have to preach!”
And as Ron and members of Bethany look ahead to Be the Blessing Day, they’re praying for good weather, since most activities will take place outdoors.
“But we believe that people will be so energized that they will let their light shine even if it rains,” he says. “And if it does rain, we will just tell everyone that it is a reminder of their baptism.”
Cindy Novak is a member of Our Saviours Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill. She lives in Lisle, Ill., with her husband, David, and her children, Sam and Emily.