Park Terrace UMC members clear a trail at the Waterman Center in Apalachin during the church's "The Church Has Left the Building" event

The Church Has Left the Building!

Park Terrace Community United Methodist Church did it again: they left the sanctuary empty on a Sunday morning. For a second year Park Terrace congregation members skipped church and went out and served the community. Instead of the usual neckties and dresses, it was matching green shirts and sturdy pants. Instead of being told to keep quiet, children were told to yell louder (at their lemonade stand). And instead of talking about helping others, Park Terrace was helping others. This year’s event took place on September 21.

The success of last year’s The Church Has Left the Building event left no doubt that the event would have a second installment. With even more participants than in 2007, the congregation branched out even further. One group went as far as the Henderson Settlement in Frakes, Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia, to put siding on a house.

Nick Keeney, pastor at Park Terrace, explains, “The Church Has Left the Building is an important day in the life of our church, because it involves every church member regardless of their age or ability. From the youngest to the oldest, we are reminded that every Christian has a call to be in mission. Reaching out to our neighbors is a part of who we are as followers of Christ.” Keeney proposed the idea after reading about similar programs offered by various Christian organizations. Park Terrace took the idea of faith in action and created The Church Has Left the Building, realizing that community service on Sunday morning would be the most effective way to show their commitment to their neighbors.

Congregation members could choose from sixteen projects, including serving meals, visiting nursing homes, making cozy quilts, building toys, baking cookies, siding a house, making sandwiches, clearing walking trails, selling lemonade, and organizing collected food for the church’s food pantry. More than one hundred people participated, with projects running from 7:30 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening. The day’s first project was serving a community breakfast at First United Methodist Church in Endicott, New York, a carryover project from 2007 and one Park Terrace members continued to participate in throughout the year. This free breakfast is open to everyone, and is offered every Sunday morning at 8:00. The church has offered the Sunday breakfast for about a year and half, with food coming from Broome Bounty.

Regular volunteers at the breakfast noted that the number of people attending the breakfasts has increased. Whether it is because word about the meal has spread or because recent economic conditions have made a free meal more appealing, a good crowd gathers every Sunday morning. The church is located at 53 McKinley Avenue in Endicott. If you would like more information about the breakfast, you can reach the church by phone at 607-748-7434.

Like attendance at the First Endicott UMC breakfast, Park Terrace’s food pantry has seen an increase in clients. Joan Cook, director of the Park Terrace Food Pantry stated, “There has been a steady increase in the usage of the food pantry, and that increase is expected to rise in the coming months. It has become increasingly difficult to keep our shelves stocked, with the increasing need.” Because of this increased need, one of The Church Has Left the Building projects was a food drive. The church sent a letter to its neighbors in the Tioga Terrace telling them of the food drive, asking participants to leave their nonperishable donations in a bag by their door. A group went out and collected the donations and brought them back to the pantry. Another group sorted the donations. If you are interested in the food pantry’s services or would like to help, Cook directs, “Donations both monetary and food can be given locally at Park Terrace Community United Methodist Church and via the Food Bank of The Southern Tier.” The pantry is located at the church, 30 Glann Road in Apalachin, and can be reached by calling 607-625-4134.

Nursing homes visits included board games and card games and room visits. Riverview Manor in Owego, New York, was one of the sites visited. Residents beat Park Terrace members at dominos and crazy eights, and they shared advice and stories. Staff at Riverview encourage visits and help volunteers coordinate their visits. Another project group sat in the church’s yard sanding, painting, and assembling wooden toys to be donated to pediatric wards at local hospitals. Sharing yard space with the toy makers was a large group of children selling lemonade, waving their bright posters at passing vehicles and cheering on customers. When I asked five-year-old Hailey Sullivan why she was helping at the lemonade stand, she answered, “To raise money to help other kids.” I also asked Hailey which type of Sunday service she liked better, selling lemonade or worshipping in the sanctuary, she smiled and said, “Selling lemonade.” When the lemonade stand closed for the day and the kids counted their money, they decided to use the money at Christmastime to buy toys for less privileged children.

In the church’s fellowship hall a group stood around a large table sewing “Ugly Quilts,” also known as Cozy Quilts, which are mismatched and donated pieces of fabric sewn together to make a blanket. These blankets are then donated to such local organizations as Volunteers of America, the Open Door Mission, New Hope House, the Oxford VA hospital, and similar groups. When a Cozy Quilt was completed, it was wrapped around a sweater, a pair of socks, a cap, gloves, and toiletries. At the other end of the fellowship hall a group prepared lunch for the volunteers, another group baked cookies for the Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference, and another group provided child care in the church’s nursery.

Out at The Waterman Conservation Education Center on Hilton Road in Apalachin, a large group helped with trail maintenance, clearing an area of sticks, rocks, roots, and pricker bushes. With gloves and pickaxes the team wheelbarrowed piles of brush into the woods, leaving their target area free of debris. The Waterman Center seeks to increase environmental awareness and recreation, and is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information on the Waterman Center, call 607-625-2221.

As volunteers embarked on their projects they were directed to reflect on their definitions of loving one’s neighbor, and if it was different during The Church Has Left the Building. Was volunteering with a church on a Sunday morning different from volunteering with other organizations? James 2:14–22 were the guiding verses for the day. In these verses James guides readers toward the importance of faith in action, saying “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17, NIV). The day ended with ice cream and cake at the church as participants shared their day’s stories. Pastor Keeney reminded church members that Jesus didn’t reach out to neighbors only one organized day a year, encouraging Park Terrace to be ready for mission at any time; Jesus’ mission work wasn’t always planned.

Park Terrace members proved themselves capable of faith in action; many, no doubt, proving this more to themselves than to anyone else. Action was the focus of the event. Action should be the focus of the church. Missing a morning of polite worship to get dirt under our nails reminded us of this. We encourage other groups, church or otherwise, to try this for yourselves. If you have any questions about The Church Has Left the Building, you can call the church at 607-625-4134 or visit the Web site at www.parkterraceUMC.org.

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