Empty pews, vital church

October 21, 2013

By Emily Allen, director of communications, Los Altos United Methodist Church
The leadership of Los Altos United Methodist Church (LAUMC) in Los Altos, Calif., wondered, "How could we move from talking about service to leading our whole congregation in doing service together?" What evolved from that question was a bold idea: cancel one Sunday’s worship services and spend the weekend worshiping through hands-on volunteer projects.
After months of planning, arranging service opportunities, recruiting site leaders, and promoting the weekend, LAUMC canceled its regularly scheduled worship services on Sept. 29 and replaced them with "Changing Earth Together" weekend. From Friday through Sunday, members went out to serve the community. The weekend wrapped up with a concert by Bobby Jo Valentine, an offering for Imagine No Malaria, and a celebration dinner.

Community service
Approximately 370 people volunteered at 17 sites over the weekend. Volunteers served breakfast at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, built a Habitat for Humanity playhouse, painted walls at the Waller Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco, sorted clothing and groceries for agencies in Mountain View and San Jose, and worked on other projects.
The Rev. Dirk Damonte, minister of music and worship arts at LAUMC, commented on the contrast from Sunday morning worship: “At 9:30 I went into the sanctuary, and it was great: the pews were empty, but over in Creekside Center volunteers were packaging 20,088 meals for STOP Hunger Now to ship to hungry school children in Afghanistan.”
One volunteer appreciated the church-organized volunteer opportunity as well as the possibility for future service. “I always knew where the Sacred Heart church was [in San Jose] but never knew where the Sacred Heart Community Service center was,” said Mary Montaldo. “Now that I know, I can go back and volunteer again.”
Celebration concert and dinner
On Sunday evening, Sept. 29, singer-songwriter Bobby Jo Valentine and his band performed a concert at LAUMC. Sasha Arjannikova, the California-Nevada Imagine No Malaria field coordinator, spoke during intermission. She shared the work that has already been done in Africa to prevent malaria and a vision of a future with no deaths by malaria. An offering raised nearly $3,000, which will support the California-Nevada Annual Conference’s two-year Imagine No Malaria campaign.
The concert was followed by a celebration dinner, where participants were invited to share stories about their service experiences over the last three days. Just over 200 people attended the concert and dinner.
During dinner, the Rev. Debbie Weatherspoon, minister of discipleship, encouraged participants not only to continue serving the community but also to focus on the underlying justice issues: to feed the hungry, then ask why there are hungry people in our community. “Start being a mosquito yourself and annoying people with the hard questions about social justice,” she said.
Changing Earth Together was a success, and Los Altos United Methodist Church is already making plans for next year.