As the church prepares to move into a busy Fall season, Central Congregational Church UCC of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, reflected on its summer activities that included its first ever participation in Make a Difference Week. (“Make a Difference Day” is a national movement to do work in the community on a particular day in October, but some organizations, like Central Congregational, have expanded it to a full week and taken part at other times of the year.)
During July, 34 youth (with adult supervision) from third grade to high school visited a local retirement/nursing home, weeded and watered the community garden that grows produce for the Open Food Pantry in Lowell, cleared Land Trust property, baked brownies for St. Paul's Soup Kitchen, did rail trail clean-up, held a canned food drive, and started a collection for refugees at the southern border. It was like Vacation Bible School, except that after opening song(s) and devotion, the group went out into the community for service projects.
“We believe Make a Difference Week is a perfect opportunity to teach kids the joy of serving as well as remind their parents that the church is a wonderful place for their kids to learn some of the most important lessons for life,” said Rev. Dr. Rich Knight, pastor of the church. “This was our first year doing this, and we're excited about how our projects truly made a difference.”
Half of the program’s attendees included youth from the community who were not members. The church was able to attract additional participants by submitting their event to their local news online site, posting the opportunity on Facebook and their web site, posting two attractive colorful signs on the property, and through word of mouth. They also invited the boy and girl scout troops who meet in the church.
Central Church got the idea from South Church in Andover, who has been running their "Summer of Service" program for several years. Pastor Knight knew Rev. Jonathan Drury, who had started the program when he was at the Andover church, and had received a Massachusetts Conference Haystack award for the effort. Drury always hoped other churches would give it a try. Central church adapted that program to include younger children, not only to teach young kids about Christian service, but also to attract young families to the church.
“We were divided into two age groups, and I was in the younger group called Ignite,” said Lily, age 8. “My group started the week by visiting Summer Place (a retirement facility) and playing board games with the folks there. On Tuesday we went to the community garden and picked 5 lbs. of peas and weeded the garden. Then on Wednesday we went shopping for supplies for the refugees at the Mexican Border. The next day we baked brownies for St. Paul’s Soup Kitchen and painted kindness rocks to hide around town. As you can see, we made a real difference!” The church rewarded the youth with a celebration at a local farm ice cream shop.
The recipients of the youth’s hard work certainly appreciated their efforts. Geoff Bryant, Executive Director of The Open Pantry praised the church for its long-time support. “CCC supports us with volunteers, food drives, their community garden, and very generous financial support from the church and many members of the congregation. I was very excited when Rich approached me about the Make a Difference Week and having the kids participate in the garden, do a food drive for us, and to have me come to speak to them. They were enthusiastic and it was great loading all the food they collected onto our truck.”
Along with their tasks, the youth were given a Bible memory verse for each day that answered the question of why this was a good thing to do in the Biblical sense. Here are three:
- “My Dear Ones, let’s not merely say that we love others; let’s show the truth by our actions.” -- John 3:18
- “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” -- Micah 6:8
- “Here is a boy with five small loaves of bread and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” -- John 6:9 (The point of this verse is to illustrate that even young children can make a difference!)
"I have been participating in the church’s West Virginia workcamp mission trip for many years and have personally seen the difference mission makes for the kids who participate,” said Bryant. “So it is exciting to see how Make a Difference week in our local area helps bring mission opportunities to more youth.”
Central Church has extended Make a Difference opportunities throughout the year, including their “Make a Difference Sundays” where they share a meal together after worship and then head out in work teams to serve the community.
“Our church's focus statement says we're ‘A congregation of faith, hope and love, striving to grow through worship and service,” said Knight. “We see outreach as central to the life of the church. We believe in hands-on, face-to-face outreach, building relationships with those in need. We find these experiences often life-changing for all involved.”
You can contact Pastor Rich Knight at the church office at (978) 256-5931 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. View photos from their Make a Difference week on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Central.Congregational.Church/ (July 20, 2019).