Members of River East Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg didn’t go to their church service on Sunday, June 10.Instead, they did service around the city during their fourth annual Community Service Day.
After meeting at the church for breakfast, members dispersed to do service projects, such as building a fence and a community garden, painting out graffiti, picking up litter and other practical ways of providing assistance.
According to Christine Longhurst, one of the church’s pastors, the service day is a way for church members to “put their faith into action” in the community.
“It all started after the flood of 1997,” says Longhurst. “Every year until then, we had been holding our church picnic in early June. But that year it didn’t seem right to be having a picnic at the same time many people were trying to recover from the flood. So we decided to try to help instead.”
The church contacted agencies involved in flood repair and were told one of the greatest needs was for sandbag removal – an essential truth of flood-fighting is that you can get a hundred people out to help you build a sandbag dike, but hardly anyone wants to remove the wet, smelly bags when the water has receded. Church members were directed to several homes south of Winnipeg, where they helped homeowners dismantle dikes and did other kinds of clean-up.
“It felt so worthwhile that we decided to do it every year,” Longhurst says, adding that the church contacts local service agencies for ideas for projects such as light construction, repair, clean-up and other activities.
A barbecue follows the service day.
This year, church members built a fence for a homeowner as part of a Habitat for Humanity community fix-up project; helped build a community garden in Winnipeg’s North End; painted over graffiti at a local community centre; helped a senior citizen with general home clean-up; organized and tidied a Mennonite Central Committee thrift store; made supplies for overseas relief kits for MCC; baked 75 dozen cookies for the church’s annual summer day camp; and did some general repair and clean-up around the church.
Children also played an important role by cleaning up litter near the church.
“At the end of the day, we all had the good feeling of having done something together to make our community a better place to live,” Longhurst says.