|BLOOMINGTON — What happens when several local congregations cancel their worship services? Many people would think something was wrong with their buildings that day—maybe a water main broke or a sewer backed-up.
Yet for five churches in the south metro—Bethany Church, Emmaus Lutheran Church, Evergreen Church, Garden Community and Hillside, along with the organization Transform Minnesota—they canceled worship services and partnered together in order to help their neighbors and put their faith into action.
Some 800 people from these congregations entered their communities on Sunday, Aug. 26 to “paint houses, pick up trash, clean school yards, offer free oil changes to single parents and host a basketball clinic,” according to an announcement from CityServe, the group organizing the effort.
In addition, volunteers participated in other similar volunteer activities on or around Aug. 26, including tree removal and house repairs. In July, a team from CityServe and the High School Leadership Training group from Evergreen Church spent the day cutting back limbs on a property that was overwhelmed by tree branches, according to a report on the Transform Minnesota website.
Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota, said the statewide group of evangelicals joined the initiative because their visions are similar.
“Our vision is to connect and mobilize evangelicals to transform Minnesota, and this initiative involves churches working together and serving their neighbors,” he said. “We have been working with these churches since last fall to begin an initiative serving Bloomington school teachers and as the churches began planning CityServe, it just made sense to expand our partnership.”
Mike Olmstead, pastor of Evergreen Community Church in Bloomington, had once heard about a neighbor who had suffered storm damage. He thought about what he could do to help and eventually decided to cut up the fallen tree branch himself that was blocking the neighbor’s driveway and remove it.
That “putting faith into action” is what is behind the CityServe initiative, which includes more than two dozen various service projects. Using an online tool called thecommon.org, volunteers can register for projects based on their skills and availability, and pastors will be able to access the network and help schedule and lead teams of volunteers—to serve their neighborhoods and community.
The neighborhood focus across denominational lines is one way the initiative is distinctive.
“CityServe is unique because it focuses on your own neighbors,” Nelson said. “These churches aren’t going across town to someone else’s neighborhood; instead, they recognize that they need to establish a credible witness and personal relationships with people living around them. The pastors want their congregations to be attentive to opportunities to help a neighbor. Several of the home improvement projects have been identified that way.”
So how will canceling church services prove beneficial? Nelson believes by demonstrating faith in a tangible way.
“Jesus did a lot of good things when on earth and as His disciples, we should do a much better job doing good and serving our neighbors,” he said. “The Bible tells us that if we have true faith in Jesus, it will be proven through our action. CityServe is about discipleship—showing people how to put their faith in Jesus into reality.”
CityServe hopes it challenges other churches and individuals to put aside their theological differences and come together to serve their neighbors. And, organizers stress, possibly expand the initiative to other neighborhoods.
“The team planning CityServe day have really enjoyed working together, and that unity makes the Bride of Christ all the more attractive; so yes, we would love to expand CityServe to another community next year,” Nelson concluded.
ACTIONPOINT: For additional information about CityServe, email email@example.com or visit www.linkbloomington.org. For additional information about the online tool CityServe uses to coordinate volunteers, visit www.thecommon.org. To view photos or watch video of various CityServe projects or for more information about Transform Minnesota, visit www.transformmn.org.