Update from Al Raposa: "The Kindness in Action Campaign was an amazing success. We were targeting 250 acts of kindness, and ended up with about 550! There was a huge amount of enthusiasm from the congregation, and many calls to make this our new tradition."
March 31, 2023
Many local churches in the Conference open their Easter service with a ‘flowering’ of the cross. Folks entering the church add flowers to a large cross-shaped structure, and the decorated cross is then carried to the altar. This Christian tradition represents the transition from Jesus’ death on Good Friday to his resurrection on Easter morning.
This year, the Plymouth Church in Framingham, UCC (MA) is adding a different spin to this tradition by inviting members of the congregation and the community to flower the cross with kindnesses conducted during Lent.
Through its “Kindness in Action” campaign, the church’s Social Action Committee challenged its congregation, families, and friends to perform at least 250 acts of kindness in their communities during Lent. Each act of kindness performed or received is recorded on a “kindness heart” and planted in their “Kindness Garden” in the sanctuary. On Easter Sunday, the garden will be harvested and the congregation will “flower the cross with kindness.”
The Social Action committee rooted the campaign in two Scripture passages:
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
̶ John 14:12 (NRSV)
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
̶ Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)
“In the first passage, Jesus tells us that we will do ‘even greater things,’ but it’s often a struggle for us as Christians to believe we’re capable,” explained Al Rapoza, chair of the church’s Social Action Committee. “We get intimidated by the stories of Jesus’ miracles and fail to remember that most of his ministry was about providing healing and comfort for the least amongst us, and promoting justice and righteousness, which we can totally do.
“The second passage tells us that we need to lead by example, that people need to see our good works to help them to be motivated to discipleship themselves. As New Englanders, we love to hide our lights under bushel baskets lest we be deemed prideful! By recording our kindnesses on kindness hearts, we all get to see and be inspired by the good works we are doing in our communities.”
This campaign, which was inspired by a member of the congregation who had done something similar at her workplace, has created a lot of buzz within the congregation and then word spread to the community. The typical Sunday post-Covid worship service at the Plymouth church has about 75 people and the team estimated that each active member would need to perform 3-4 acts of kindness to fill the 250 hearts it would take to adequately cover the cross. The church challenged the local “Keep Framingham Beautiful” organization to spread the kindness as well, and they’ve responded with over 100 kindnesses of their own.
For a campaign that included community participation, it has been easy to do and has not taken a lot of volunteers to manage it. The Deacons and Pastor cut out the nearly 500 paper hearts (hoping to surpass their goal). The members of the congregation have recorded their own kindnesses on the hearts when they arrive at church before Sunday worship. The hearts are stapled onto pipe cleaner stems and planted in the Kindness Garden in the sanctuary, where they await being placed on the cross immediately before the Easter Sunday service. The Keep Framingham Beautiful (KFB) members posted their kindnesses on their Facebook page under the hashtag #KFBKIA. Rapoza, a member of the group, has recorded their kindnesses on hearts and brought them to the church, and he provides regular progress updates on their Facebook page.
Over 100 people have participated so far, and the Social Action Team has been very impressed with the diversity of kindnesses that they have seen during this campaign. They've ranged from stopping to let drivers turn into traffic, to making and delivering Belgian waffles to elderly neighbors, to volunteering at food pantries, to handing out Dunkin Donuts gift cards to people in need in Boston. One of the church youth crocheted a dozen caps for women undergoing chemo who had lost their hair.
“It really has been quite inspiring, and such a great example of discipleship in Jesus Christ,” said Rapoza.
“The campaign has not only heightened our awareness of the many simple kindnesses shown to each one of us by others and the kindnesses that we ourselves can bestow, but it also stimulated our creativity to be intentional with our kindness – to look for opportunities and spread a little happiness,” said Church Moderator John Tonkiss.
Tonkiss had been wondering what he could do in the way of intentional kindness but nothing seemed to jump out at him until he read a suggestion on one of his many Google searches – why not include an inspirational note and place it in a library book? That got him thinking on how he could expand and adapt that idea. Energized, he went to the bank and took out $25 in $5 notes. To each one he attached a sticky note in the form of a pink heart and wrote on it: “You are a beloved child of God – This is for you!” He wanted to help ensure that whoever discovered it would know that the gift was intentional.
He then set off for the local library and was immediately overwhelmed – into which books he should place his gifts?
“I headed to the non-fiction section and immediately knew what I needed to do,” Tonkiss explained. “I decided that those readers who were looking for help would perhaps appreciate the kindness the most. Books on the parenting of an autistic child, coping with bullying among teen girls, a guide for family intervention (breaking the cycle of drug addiction), a “how-to” guide to becoming a US citizen, and a guide to re-entry into the workforce for offenders, all received a $5 bill and my note, carefully placed among the pages.”
“By performing this simple act, it brought me enormous satisfaction, and I simply love the fact that I will never know who received the gift, nor their reaction. However, my hope is that it made the person smile, that it surprised them, and brought a little brightness to their day,” Tonkiss said.
“This Kindness in Action campaign has so many positive features,” said Mary Whittemore, a long-time active member of the church. “First of all, it’s such a simple concept. Anyone and everyone can participate in their own way. It is front and center for just the weeks of Lent, but also has a numerical goal of 250 “testimonies” by Easter. But most of all, it reminds us to consciously and conscientiously do a good deed – if not daily then at least weekly. It becomes an antidote to the acts of hate and bigotry that dominate our national news.”
Whittemore explained that her “Day One” action was to email the committee member who had promoted the idea and to let her know that, thanks to her, the initiative was off and running. Then she started consciously stopping her car to either let someone turn left in front of her or merge into her lane. She recalled one day where she was stopped in a line of traffic at a red light, a young woman carrying a sign saying she had two kids, needed financial help, etc. was slowly walking down the concrete median strip. As the woman walked by cars with drivers who ignored her, the Kindness campaign kicked into Whittemore’s head. “I grabbed my wallet, hastily pulled out a $20 bill and gave it to her as she worked her way back up to her starting point. She thanked me. I would not have done that were it not for this program. The real test will be, will I keep it up?”
"We are realizing -- remembering? -- that kindness is much more than being 'nice.’ And much more powerful,” said Rev. Gregory Morisse, pastor at the church. “Acts of Kindness are seeds that grow into movements of change and justice. Acts of Kindness are the balm that heals the soul. Acts of Kindness are ties that bind us back together after periods of trauma and challenge."
Editor’s Note: We will add pictures of the flowered cross after Easter.
Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane writes news articles for the SNEUCC website. She is also the editor of the Starting With Scripture newsletter. Contact her if: Your church has a great story to tell about an innovative ministry. You have a prayer request to ...