Most churches would panic a little at the thought of an empty sanctuary on Sunday morning. But for First United Methodist Church of Durango, an empty sanctuary next weekend will mean success.
“The church is not for people who sit in pews,” said Barb Clair, co-chairwoman of Love Out Loud, a churchwide service project. “It’s for the people outside the pews.”
Several churches around the country have instituted similar programs, where congregations select a weekend to do community service as a form of worship.
“I wanted to get out in the community and be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Clair said about taking the idea to the Rev. Jeff Huber, senior pastor of First United Methodist. “He was very excited because the idea had been on his mind. We got his blessing.”
Huber, meanwhile, was happy to have lay members of the church take on the idea. He introduced Clair to Marcia Heidenreich, another member of the congregation who was floating the same kind of idea, and the two have been planning the weekend since the beginning of the year.
The women worked with 10 different human-services agencies, elder-care facilities and the city of Durango to identify service opportunities, including Volunteers of America, Manna Soup Kitchen, Big Brothers Big Sisters of La Plata County, Sunshine Gardens Country Home, Four Corners Health Care Center and Animas Valley Elementary School.
“We found coordinators for each activity and let them decide what they needed and how many people they needed,” Clair said. “It was completely out of our comfort zone to delegate and just let it go, but we did it.”
There are 38 activities on the list, ranging from writing letters and singing hymns to building a donation-receiving area for the Methodist Thrift Shop and going on days-long mission trips.
Families can choose tasks to do together, teams of two are needed for others, and for many more, individuals can join a group. Most require only willing hands and hearts.
Clair and Heidenreich have enlisted Congregation Har Shalom’s members to make Love Out Loud an interfaith experience, and they want to make it a communitywide event. They encourage church members to bring friends, and all community members are welcome.
They’re expecting a lot of people and hope many will sign up by Sunday evening so they can do as much organizing in advance as possible.
“We’re going to be like tour directors with those umbrellas,” Clair said. “We’re going to get all the people to the right groups, coordinate the groups and have a mini-blessing to send us out.”
This is just the beginning. Clair and Heidenreich hope to make Love Out Loud a quarterly affair.
“We’re hoping to have more regional projects including places like Bayfield and Durango West,” Clair said. “Our ultimate goal is to have people reach out to people they know or live by and get to know their neighbors. For the church, it’s an opportunity to invite people outside the church to volunteer.”