This is the 22nd in a series of stories about congregations engaged in significant outreach and evangelism ministries, reflecting the General Assembly’s commitment to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.” ― Jerry L. Van Marter

It’s one thing to give money to a cause and then proclaim your responsibility to mission and evangelism fulfilled.
It’s a totally different thing to personally go out into your community for one-on-one, face-to-face ministry.

The latter is the method Providence Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, VA, opted to take in an effort to reach outside itself, minister to those in need and be an example of Christ — the kind of evangelistic outreach the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 218th General Assembly endorsed last summer to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.”

On March 28 the congregation enacted a day long volunteer blitz into its community. Efforts included doing home repair work, delivering food to the needy, visiting a nursing home and honoring local fire and police officials.

“It is easy for us to sit back and write a check,” said the Rev. Jeffrey S. Bell, pastor of  450-member Providence Church in Eastern Virginia Presbytery. “Yet this congregation needed to set aside time as a church family and give of ourselves.”

Working “shoulder to shoulder” builds fellowship and a better sense of outreach, ministry and missions, he said.

So, following breakfast, worship and communion, about 125 men, women and youth of the church moved into Virginia Beach and adjacent Norfolk in a mass volunteer effort. Some spent time at two area homes that needed repairs and yard work.

The homes were identified after Providence Church reached out to Virginia Beach city officials, who “overwhelmingly said ‘yes, we could help you with this,’” said Floyd Gilbert, an elder at Providence and chair of the church’s Mission, Outreach and Evangelism Committee.

Other volunteers traveled to The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia in Norfolk, where they delivered 470 pounds of food and helped prepare supplies for families in need.

And at Westminster Canterbury nursing home, church volunteers entertained residents with music and songs.

Until now, “much of our work has been inward,” said Gilbert. This day of giving back in the community “was long overdue.”

Ultimately, “our goal is to bring men, women and children to Christ,” he said. “But, by example.”

The day, which had been in the planning for about a year, also included giving thanks to those in the community who provide essential services. Providence Church volunteers trekked to the local fire and police stations to distribute 200 gift bags that included homemade cookies and a message from Bell in appreciation for their work.

A key component of the effort was “to be able to get to know a person,” said Bell. “We engaged with them.”

He said although Virginia Beach and its surrounding communities are quite large and stable because of military-related jobs, “there are still a lot of folks who don’t go to church regularly.”

Our concern is “bringing new people into the fold,” Bell said.

The church is planning more outreach and community service activities, and has contacted the city to locate another home to help repair and clean up. Bell said he wants other areas of the church’s life — such as its Christian education program — to find ways to make connections out in the community.

The community volunteer day has “been a springboard,” he said. “We continue to be excited about what we’ve done.”

Toya Richards Hill is a free-lance writer in Louisville, KY, and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.