MACKINAW — The dictionary definition of “church” is a building used for public Christian worship, but The Church Has Left the Building one day service event is working to redefine it.
To Pastor Rusty Richards of Minier Christian Church, church is not something that happens in a building for two hours one day a week, but rather “it’s a people, it’s a movement.”
The second annual The Church Has Left the Building event enlisted nearly 315 volunteers from 12 different churches to take on some 40 different projects throughout Minier, Mackinaw, Danvers, Hopedale, Armington and Atlanta in just three hours on Sunday afternoon. All but three of the anticipated projects were completed.
“Because evidently you can’t paint in the rain,” Richards joked as he addressed the volunteers.
This unity across many denominational walls is what Richards believes makes this service so special because “church is not contained to one spot, it is a people leaving the building to be a church, no matter what their beliefs are.”
A sea of neon shirts filed into the Assembly of God Church in Minier that acted as a hub for the volunteers to find retreat and a warm, home-cooked meal at the conclusion of their day.
Members of the various churches talked about what they had accomplished and proudly shared before and after pictures of the work they had completed. While Richards was the event organizer, he credits the 12 other pastors and the many volunteers for helping make this day possible.
The other pastors included Ron Marsiglio of Minier Assembly, Bob Clark of Danvers Baptist Church, Tim Severt of Harvest Baptist Church (Mackinaw), Frank Zimmerman of Good Shepherd Lutheran (Minier) and Zion Lutheran (Danvers), Judith Guy of Mackinaw Christian Church, Tyler Escoubas of Armington Christian Church, Rodger Springer of Living Hope (Hopedale), Kirk Walker of Hopedale Mennonite Church, Nathan Soice of Atlanta Christian Church and the Rev. Robert Sherman of St. John’s United Church of Christ (Minier).
The sound of laughter and chatter amongst the volunteers could be heard over the pounding of nails and buzzing of power tools. The smell of fresh mulch and sawdust mixed with the earthy scent of the seemingly never-ending rain spells of the previous days.
With mud-covered clothes, project coordinator Gary Meister slipped off his dirty work gloves and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his forearm as he sat down on a kid-sized picnic table in the play area of the Eastside Education Center in Mackinaw.
“Man, am I beat,” Meister said.
Although tired, the smile never left his face as he shared the great joy he feels in volunteering his service for the benefit of others.
Meister explained that the projects completed during this day of service are ones that public works officials would normally handle, but may not have the time or money to complete. For Meister’s site, the Eastside Education Center was no longer receiving funding from the state and could not afford to fix things around the center to meet specific codes. Volunteers gave their time and services to help the day care keep up to code so that it could continue to operate and — most important to Meister — take care of the children.
The projects were centered on the beautification of the community. Tasks consisted of mulching and landscaping, weeding, building and fixing things around schools, businesses, nursing homes and other facilities in need. The organizers talked to the facilities prior to the event and pinpointed projects that needed to be handled. So far the group has been able to complete each requested project and even pay for nearly all of them.
“When you work, you have bills to pay, so you pay your house off, you pay your cars off, and then you get to the point of retirement,” said Meister. “At that point, it’s time to give back, not take anymore. So volunteering is the way I do that.”
While each volunteer had their own reason for participating, Richards hopes that the common goal was to show the community that churches care not only for themselves, but also for the community itself and those who live in it. The service was their way of showing pride in their respective communities.
“It’s a one day thing that we are hoping causes a ripple effect and people don’t just serve one day, but come back and serve at some of these locations on their own time,” said Richards. “And we hope that groups and churches become known for making a difference in their communities.”
Grace Barbic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (309)686-3194. Follow her on Twitter @gracebarbic.