An alternative to Black Friday madness


Bless Friday puts service to God above consumerism

By Mike Ferguson | Presbyterians Today

Members and friends who attend The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church north of Houston have for years participated in Bless Friday, which adds an element of service to God and community to the frenzy that is Black Friday. Courtesy of The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church

Chuck Fox, a Presbyterian living and working in Houston, first got the idea to start Bless Friday during a homily he heard from a Catholic priest the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2009.

The priest talked about the reason for Christmas and how the focus needed to be on serving the Lord, which seemed especially nonexistent on Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving that has become the traditional frenzied launch of the Christmas gift-buying season.

“I was that Presbyterian sitting in the back row and I said, ‘You know — you’re right. We need to take the day after Thanksgiving and turn it into a service day,’ ” Fox said.

Fox, a member of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston, started talking up his idea for a day of service replacing a day of shopping. His son Joe came up with the Bless Friday name, which Fox trademarked. The first Bless Friday event occurred in 2010 and has been held every year since.

A few churches in the Houston area — and eventually one in Seattle — have over the past decade been offering their members and friends service opportunities rather than shopping excursions on Bless Friday. Since that first year, participating churches’ forays into the community have included staffing fix-it projects for low-income and health-challenged families, feeding people experiencing homelessness, rebuilding hurricane-damaged homes, organizing church cleanup days, producing no-sew fleece blankets for wounded service members and visiting nursing home residents.

Bless Friday events can include everything from a workday at church to caring for people in need, as The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church near Houston has been doing for years. Courtesy of The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church

Bill Bray, who attends The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church a half-hour north of Houston, said his church has found Bless Friday to be “a nice activity, especially for college students home from school. It’s the perfect way to usher in the Christmas season.”

Bray is a self-described “building and grounds guy,” and so a workday to spruce up the church grounds for the start of Advent has been part of Bless Friday. But some folks asked if there was more that could be done to help others, Bray says.

That’s when organizers at The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church added a meal-delivery component to their Bless Friday celebration.

At Memorial Drive Presbyterian, there are Bless Friday activities that people can participate in without even leaving their home.

“We have activities people can do in their own homes, inviting their neighbors over to do things like packing bags of rice and beans for the food pantry,” Fox said. He labels that kind of activity “soft evangelism.”

“When you describe the idea of Bless Friday, people start nodding their heads,” Fox said. “But we’re looking for more than that. Go organize something. It can be simple. Take 10 people from your Sunday school class and find some way to honor Christ with your service.”

To those considering offering Bless Friday in their churches, Fox has a piece of advice: Keep it simple.

“Reach out to organizations you are already involved with,” he said. In rural churches, that often means a Bless Friday visit to a local nursing home. Churches in larger communities tend to work with nearby food banks and shelters, he adds.

This year, about 10 churches — Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic and Lutheran among them — are set to participate in the 10th Bless Friday on Nov. 29. So far, Bless Friday has been growing through word of mouth, Fox says. An upgrade to the organization’s website and efforts to get event brochures into people’s hands, though, should help boost the number of participating churches.

“Christians like the idea of starting off the Christmas season with service,” he said.

And fear not: There will be ample opportunity following Bless Friday to get the Christmas shopping done.

“There’s Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — plenty of time in the season,” Fox said. “Bless Friday is a meaningful way to start your Christmas celebration, and it can be transformative to children, who are still learning how to celebrate Christmas.”

Mike Ferguson is editor of Presbyterian News Service.

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