Sweater-knitting ministry unites church, community in service
September 11, 2009
Editor’s note: This is the latest 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
Proof that Presbyterian Community Church of Preston, Idaho, is connecting with its community doesn’t lie in its membership numbers.
With about 34 members operating in a town where 90 percent of the population is connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Presbyterian Community Church looks at indicators like the growth of its sweater-knitting ministry as a sign of its impact.
Some in the small community of 5,000 people won’t even step inside a church building if it’s not the “right” one, said Mike Butler, the commissioned lay pastor of Presbyterian Community Church, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation. Yet, “we have people who have actually pushed against that barrier and come in for knitting.”
“We’ve had a couple of people who came to the knitting and then they came to the service,” he added.
Presbyterian Community Church is growing its church deep and wide, whether through its sweater knitting ministry, its support of the local food bank or its regular worship service.
Butler, who came to the church in 2003, said there are many in his community who don’t know where they are going and need direction.
“We, as Christians, know where our help comes from,” he said. “We need to help others learn that.”
The church’s knitting project started about two years ago and is part of an overall effort to make sweaters for Guideposts. Initially the group set out to make 25 sweaters, yet has ended up crafting more than 250 sweaters, Butler said.
“And they are not stopping,” he said. “They just keep sending them off.”
Butler said a third of those who take part “have nothing to do with our church,” and that once a month the group holds Bible study instead of knitting.
Presbyterian Community Church also reaches out through a public meal it serves once a month, an activity the congregation has been engaging in for about four years. Their share-a-meal ministry is open to “anybody who wants to come get it” on the last Wednesday of the month, Butler said. Along with the meal, games and other activities also provide for more fellowship, he said.
“We will have 25 to 30 during most of the year,” and in the summertime when the meal is shared in the park between 50 and 80 people attend, Butler said.
About the same time the church began its share-a-meal ministry, it also started working with the local food bank.
Butler said the food bank needed a sponsor, and so the congregation has been providing funding and leadership support. Clients who come to the food bank receive a flyer about Presbyterian Community Church with their distribution. A new building for the food bank is under construction.
Under Butler’s leadership as a commissioned lay pastor, the members of the church “have been experiencing a new understanding of what it means to be church,” said the Rev. Laura Stellmon, transitional presbyter for the Presbytery of Utah.
Growing deep and wide means the pastor and the membership “all have a responsibility ... to be doing something for the Lord in the community,” she said. Butler, who commutes 90 miles one way from his home to serve, has been helpful “in making that visually apparent.”
Butler said the church is not looking for big spikes in its membership numbers, or for drastically adding more missions. “We are looking to continue to serve as we are going right now,” he said.
The focus is to “maintain the course,” showing friendliness, assisting the needy and helping those in the community establish a relationship with Jesus, Butler said.