This piece was on the front page of the Lake Wylie Pilot on Tuesday:
Steele Creek church looks to make ‘radical impact’ on hunger
John Marks – firstname.lastname@example.org STEELE CREEK —
It isn’t going to be a wafer and juice cup kind of Sunday.
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church has a heartier helping in mind. Specifically, helping famine relief efforts in Uganda. The traditional Sunday 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m. service times will be replaced by a “mass assembly line” of congregant workers packing as many as 200,000 meals.
“The notion of worshipping by feeding really appealed to us,” said Talbot Davis, pastor at Good Shepherd. “Pity watches what compassion does. We are hands on.”
Good Shepherd is a multi-generational, multi-ethnic church that brings in about 1,600worshipers on a Sunday. Regularly the church hosts “radical impact projects,” where it challenges members to put their faith into practice. At a time often reserved for angels and shepherds, the Christmas Eve service at Good Shepherd last year addressed human trafficking. The service raised $207,000 toward anti-trafficking efforts in Cambodia and Thailand.
On Sunday the “radical” notion will be that a church service can be about public service, even service to foreign countries. In August the student ministry at Good Shepherd held a smaller event, where about 200 people prepared 50,100 meals. They also collected $525 in change, good for another 2,100 meals.
“We have a rare group of teenagers who are about more than themselves,” said John Pavlovitz, student ministry pastor. “It was just such a great experience. It’s a festive atmosphere when you’re packing these meals.”
The church partnered with Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization based in Raleigh, N.C., serving 76 countries. To date they’ve helped package more than 52.6 million meals.
“It’s just mindboggling to see all these people come together packing these meals, and just the pure joy of anybody from the age of 5 up to 100,” said Brandon Faulkner, program manager for the Stop Hunger Now Charlotte sharehouse.
Other churches in Fort Mill, York and other nearby areas have held smaller events, but seldom does something on the scale of Sunday’s service happen. Even when Good Shepherd isn’t packaging meals, it’s helping Stop Hunger Now financially. In the past 18 months they’ve been responsible for about $300,000 of relief sent to four different countries.
“This is by far one of the largest ones we’ve done in the Charlotte area,” Faulkner said. “If you want to talk about being the sermon, this is being the sermon.”
Good Shepherd still asks members or guests to attend a one-hour time slot, just as they would for a traditional service. The church concedes that the effort won’t look at all like a recognizable Sunday morning, but they aren’t making apologies for it.
“Instead of a praise band, we’ll pound a celebratory gong every time we pack 1,000 meals,” Davis said. “Instead of a bulletin, we’ll pass out bags of rice. Instead of a sermon, we’ll put on hair nets. And instead of starvation, we’re praying for and doing something about nutrition.”
Davis believes the food packaging can be “every bit as worshipful” as sermons and songs. Pavlovitz sees the “tangible work to help people” as a way for his students to “actually live the message instead of just hearing it.”
“We just want to be a church that lives what it believes,” he said.
Yet ironically, it’s that statement of belief through service that also makes for perhaps the most inviting opportunity to try out Good Shepherd regardless of belief. Some people believe in God, some in Jesus, Davis said. Sunday’s service provides an opportunity to serve with whatever beliefs volunteers bring to the table.
“Most people believe in feeding hungry people,” Davis said.