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Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, holds a ‘service of service’

Members and friends worshiped together on Aug. 6, then packed 10,000 meals to feed neighbors near and far

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

On Aug. 6, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, turned its gym into a worship space. The church’s “service of service” featured a 30-minute worship service followed by members and friends packing 10,000 meals of cinnamon oatmeal for distribution by church partners. (Photo courtesy of Westminster Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Each Sunday this month, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska is putting service into its worship service.

The Rev. Chris Peters, Westminster’s head of staff, is offering a month-long “When Life Shows Up to Church” preaching series by considering the question, “What do we do when the storms of life show up to church?”

During worship on Aug. 6, the answer was clear: After hearing Peters’ sermon based on Mathew’s account of the feeding 5,000 families, about 130 people worshiping not in Westminster’s sanctuary but in the church’s gymnasium donned hairnets and plastic gloves to pack 10,000 meals for People’s City Mission, Lincoln’s primary homeless shelter, as well as for people in the Omaha and Winnebago reservations through another partner, Heartland Kids Against Hunger.

As people packed the cinnamon oatmeal kits, which they packaged and boxed assembly-line style, Peters said he witnessed “a sense of enthusiasm, a good bit of laughter and conversation,” including what became a catch phrase among those gathered: Once 36 kits of 6 meals each had been boxed and were ready to go, the crowd would call out, “1,2,3 — send it!”

“People were very joyful,” Peters said of the unique service. When Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was piped in, people sang along enthusiastically, including a number of middle school and high schoolers who don’t often attend worship. “It was a joyful and committed community,” Peters said. “The gym was packed.”

A chant of “1,2,3 — send it!” rang out following the completion of each box of cinnamon oatmeal. (Photo courtesy of Westminster Presbyterian Church)

In his sermon recorded before the service and adapted for the Aug. 6 “service of service” in the Westminster gym, Peters said the group effort “is a reminder that while we find hope and reflection and grace in our time and space of worship together, life still shows up to church, because we’re human.”

“A person who’s hungry may show up while a Bible study is meeting in the church library,” Peters said. “A person who’s been excluded from worship at another church might show up seeking to be included in this space … No matter where we go, our faith goes with us, and no matter where we go, life shows up.”

If we put faith first, “when life shows up on our doorstep, whatever the need … then we act like Jesus, who in the scripture is such a compelling example of what God intends when life shows up,” he said. “We see others with compassion, not self-interest.”

Peters highlighted two points about the gospel text for that Sunday, Matthew 14:13-21. “First, notice at the beginning Jesus was heading for some ‘me time,’ seeking a space of prayer,” he said. But the crowds followed him, and rather than turn people away, Jesus felt empathy for them, curing the sick and “sharing the good news of God’s kingdom in word and in deed.” With financial help from Westminster’s foundation, that’s what those gathered were prepared to do that Sunday, Peters said.

“Life shows up to church with us — maybe in our own worries, our own hurts, in those neighbors who show up sitting down the pew or watching down the hall,” he said. “The concerns on our hearts and in our minds, our fears and our worries — that’s life showing up to church, showing up in this time and space of worship, in those neighbors we may choose to ignore.”

The second point was that “when the disciples had a scarcity mindset, Jesus responded with abundant sharing,” Peters said. “We are called — and thank goodness we are empowered by the Holy Spirit — to look out with abundance and to act accordingly with our own abundance mindset, knowing the gift of abundance is a gift of grace from God.”

The Rev. Chris Peters

“Today as we worship, we recognize those who stand in our gym under basketball nets and over 3-point lines acting with an abundance mindset, packing 10,000 meals together. We recognize those who have given to our foundation over the years for endowments that support this work of service today,” Peters said. “We’re saying worship is bigger than ‘me, me, me’ and is about ‘us, us, us,’ because life shows up to church. When life shows up to church, we share and we serve, partnering with organizations that have resources we don’t have as a church.”

“Today we recognize that acts of service are also acts of worship,” he said, “praising God with joy as we show compassion. We boldly proclaim — not with just our words or with our ears or with our eyes, but physically with our hands  — that our God is a God of abundant compassion, and that our God calls us to act with such a mindset as well, such a heart’s calling and such a continuing act of worship and service, through our worship and through our service, and so we give thanks.”

In the days that followed that service of service — in fact, beginning just after the final kit was packed that Sunday — “people have been saying, when are we going to do this again?” Peters said. In fact, Westminster plans to revisit its service of service next spring, Peters said.

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