Bartlesville First Wesleyan took “where two or three gather in my (Christ’s) name” (Matthew 18:19-20) to heart this year when planning its annual Bartlesville Serve Sunday, an event designed to show the love of Christ by serving others. For the second year in a row the church sought participation from other Wesleyans in the area, and on Sunday, October 23, the town was served and prayed for by at least 360 volunteers from Fellowship Wesleyan, First Wesleyan Church, Kiddie College (First Wesleyan’s day care), New Life Wesleyan, Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OKWU), Sooner Park Wesleyan and Wesleyan Christian School (First Wesleyan’s Pre-K through 12th grade school).
Months of planning went into the event. From cleaning up trash along roads, doing yard or repair work to loving on the elderly and serving first responders, Wesleyans were out in force.
Serve Sunday isn’t simply to help with chores or clean up the town, but also clearly focuses on building relationships and praying for the community. The event kicked off in the closed parking lot of Chick-fil-A on a Sunday where volunteer T-shirts and banners with #ServeBville were visible to the community. Despite high winds and some electricity challenges, a 30-minute worship service led by an OKWU worship team that included devotions and prayers for the community, children, families preceded volunteers being sent out to their workstations.
One team visited an assisted living facility where they sang gospel music and showed love to the residents.
As #ServeBville organizer and First Wesleyan Local Outreach Pastor Rev. Belinda Selfridge explains, Serve Sunday is a chance to be “the hands, feet and knees of Jesus.” Indeed, teams that weren’t doing yard work and painting or helping the elderly went on a “prayer drive” to focus on specific sites, such as City Hall, the hospital, schools and first responders. “I want to see a revival, and for the Spirit of God to move on our town,” shares Pastor Belinda.
Rev. Bri Walker, family pastor of Sooner Park Wesleyan, said that watching families serving side-by-side made a big impact on her. “We can talk about serving like Christ but setting an example for our children and this younger generation is key.” She said there were 100 new volunteers this year, including 40 from Sooner Park, and saw relationships form among members of the different organizations.
A key to pulling off an event such as this, said Pastor Bri, is to start planning early and follow up early and often with your volunteers. Her advice to other churches considering something similar is to line up a diverse list of places to serve and make sure you have enough volunteers to fulfill commitments.
That sentiment was echoed by Courtney Higgins from First Wesleyan who has worked on the Serve Sunday project for the past five years. “It takes a team of people who really care about the community and have a heart for serving. It is a lot of work to find places to serve and people to lead the groups,” she said. “Make sure there is something for everyone to do, young or old.”
The reason so many volunteers give their time on a Sunday is to show folks in the community that they are loved. “I believe when the community sees us out serving, it gives a little hope that others care for others — something our world needs in today’s society. It is my favorite thing to do as a whole church,” says Courtney. These events can also be a great way to get people who normally don’t serve in the church to get involved. “I feel like that is a win,” she said.
And get involved they did. Alex Young, who served on the planning committee and led student volunteers for the second year in a row as activities director from OKWU, said his team picked up trash on nearly the entire length of Bartlesville’s 12-mile walking trail. Regarding the need for such an event, Alex stated, “I think it breaks down the walls of the church and puts the preaching into practice. It’s one thing to preach about loving your neighbor every Sunday, but we need to give opportunities to do that also.” A key to holding such an event is building a team of people who are passionate about seeing it happen. “It isn’t something that one person or even one church alone can do.”
Pastor Belinda says, “We lead such separate lives these days. To say ‘Hey, I see you and I care about you’ fills that need of people to be seen and known and heard. Didn’t Jesus do that?”
And while this is a one-day event, participants were encouraged to see how they can serve others every day. One volunteer indicated that he and his family plan to come back to the place they served and continue to volunteer. Pastor Belinda says, “How can we see people with Jesus’ eyes? It is our hope that we would continue to look for practical ways to serve our community so that they see Jesus through us.”
Jennifer Jones is the district administrator for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.
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