On the morning of Sunday, Oct. 27, the pews of First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown were empty, yet the building was abuzz with activity as congregants of all ages set themselves to a wide variety of mission projects. The activities were part of The Church Has Left the Building, a movement encouraging churches to participate in a day of service.
According to Pastor Stuart Spencer, who took the reins at the local church just 18 months ago, he came by the idea while serving a congregation in New Hope, Pa. Doug Hoglund, pastor of the nearby Woodside Church in Yardley, started the tradition in 2010 and has since encouraged churches throughout the Philadelphia region to participate with the slogan, “Don’t go to church. Be the church!”
Although heavy rains somewhat limited activities to projects that could be completed indoors and several projects on the grounds of the church building or out in the community had to be rescheduled, there was no shortage of jobs to keep congregants busy.
Members of the church were divided into working groups, each tackling a different project. Congregants filled meal bags with food essentials like rice for international hunger-relief organization Rise Against Hunger, filled gift boxes for relief organization Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, wrote letters to members of the armed forces and veterans as well as individuals in assisted living situations, assembled care packages for college students and made plarn (plastic yarn) to be woven into sleeping mats for the homeless.
Linda Jagiela, an outreach administrator for the church who acted as an event coordinator, says the planning process began about six months ago with a small committee. At first, her fellow congregants were a little unclear about the concept of The Church Has Left the Building, but once they caught on, there was no shortage of volunteers.
“By the end we had about 15 people on the committee and people were coming up with their own ideas,” Jagiela said.
Although the church has a long tradition of participating in missions and community service projects throughout the year, this event was the first of its kind, where several missions and projects were tackled over the course of a single day.
“I think there’s been an interest in seeing the church do more hands-on things for themselves, so this is just a natural way for us to be able to do more of those kinds of get-your-hands-dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of things,” Pastor Spencer said.
Church member Kourtney De La Cruz participated in the day’s service activities helping her daughter write letters to service members and veterans.
“It’s a great way for the kids to get involved,” De La Cruz said, adding she hopes the church holds more service events like this throughout the year. “This is exactly what the church should be doing. The church is the people, not the building.”
For De La Cruz and her fellow congregants, the event also represented a great way to get to know the other members of the church and to strengthen those connections.
“It’s an opportunity for us to commune together while we serve because this church is a community,” De La Cruz said.
One of Spencer’s hopes bringing this event to his new congregation is that it would plant some seeds for future projects and encourage members to find other ways to get involved.
Chelsea Margerim is one such member who felt inspired to continue serving after joining a group from the church on a trip to Camden to feed the hungry. This was her first experience participating in a service project like this and it seems like it won’t be her last.
“I really want to do it again. I want to talk to the church and see if we can do it once a month,” Margerim said.
Since the church welcomed its new pastor, Margerim says she has noticed a shift in the church, one that many congregants are welcoming, as evidenced by widespread participation in the day’s many opportunities to serve.
“This is what church should be about. This is why we’re here,” Spencer said. “We’re not just here for the sake of ourselves. I think the church is here, ultimately, to be of help, to be a gift, to be a blessing to the community.”