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A big mission for a tiny church


Prayer and study undergirds feeding others

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today

Church: Chapel by the Sea Presbyterian  |  Location: Moclips, Washington  |  Members: 22

Matthew 25 Focuses: Building congregational vitality; eradicating systemic poverty

Local Situation: The Washington State Food Security Survey, conducted by the University of Washington in late 2020, revealed food insecurity spiked post-COVID-19, affecting an estimated 30% of households.

The Chapel by the Sea Hunger Action Team (HAT) made and delivered Coronavirus Safety Kits with hand sanitizer, mask and information about food and emergency resources to area residents. Courtesy of Chapel by the Sea Presbyterian Church

Chapel by the Sea Presbyterian Church is where wedding dreams come true. Nestled among knotty pine trees on the rocky Washington coastline, the chapel, however, provides more than just nuptial photo ops. It provides a snapshot of hope for residents living in the hamlet of Moclips who struggle to put food on the table.

Since 2015, the “tiny, but mighty” church — as the congregants lovingly call themselves — has been focused on living out Matthew 25 by feeding the hungry. It was then that member Phyllis Shaughnessy founded The Green Lantern Lunch Program to help children have nutritious meals during the summer. The program soon expanded to provide weekend lunches during the school year.

Chapel by the Sea has also been assembling COVID-19 safety kits. When the pandemic hit a year ago, the Hunger Action Team of Chapel by the Sea — yes, the “tiny, but mighty” church even has an action team — saw a need for better safety precautions and began assembling kits with masks, hand sanitizer and information sheets with food and emergency resources listed. And when member Cindy Stearns applied for and was awarded a CARES Act Grant to help churches during the pandemic, Chapel by the Sea did what they always do. They didn’t look inward, but rather used that money to buy meals for others from local restaurants.

The pastor-in-residence, the Rev. Dr. Linda Flatley, who came to the church in 2018, has seen this commitment to helping others keep the congregation energized and vital. She tells them that with now 22 members on the roll, up from 15, Chapel by the Sea might soon have to stop referring to itself as “tiny.” How does the congregation, though, keep its focus when many small congregations falter?

Becoming a Matthew 25 congregation has helped, Flatley says. While already doing the work of eradicating systemic poverty — one of the three focuses churches may choose to address as a Matthew 25 congregation — it was the prayer and Bible study resources that were offered by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that grounded the congregation. “We had the signed certificate showing we were a Matthew 25 congregation, but what now?” said Flatley. Rather than jumping into “doing,” the congregation spent time “being” submerged in the Matthew text, thus providing a stronger foundation for the church to build its dual mission of revitalization and feeding the hungry upon.

This focus on prayer was second nature to Chapel by the Sea’s pastor. Flatley is a native of Scotland and did her doctoral work in Celtic spirituality. Since the beginning of 2021, Flatley has offered Celtic spirituality studies via Zoom, which has garnered attention from the community. New faces have joined Flatley on the Celtic spirituality Zoom gatherings. And, even at the height of the pandemic, when sheltering in place was the norm, Flatley made sure the chapel doors remained open for prayer and that there was always a light on to shine out into the community.

“I felt the strong need to do this. We are on a state route, and it is important for those passing by to see the doors open and the lights on,” she said.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today.

Lessons Learned

  • Take time to pray on the Matthew 25 focus your church has committed to address.
  • Before plunging into “doing,” study the Matthew 25 Scripture.
  • If your church has just become a Matthew 25 congregation, do a sermon series on Jesus’ words about serving the least of these.
  • Don’t let the lack of people deter your congregation from reaching out to the community. Pray, study, discern and then do.

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