Church members assemble CWS school kits during a ‘participatory sermon’

Tacoma PC(USA) congregation prays ‘with, hearts, minds and hands’

September 9, 2014

participatory worship at Bethany

"Participatory worship" at Bethany Church, assembly CWS School Kits. —Abbie Watters

TACOMA, Wash.

On a recent summer Sunday at worship at Bethany Presbyterian Church here, we prayed with our hearts, minds and hands.

We had our first-ever participatory sermon, during which we assembled kits of school supplies for distribution here in the United States and throughout the world in case of disaster or violence that leaves school children without access to school and school supplies.

These CWS School Kits ― also known across the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. as Gift of the Heart School Kits ― are provided collaboratively by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Church World Service.

Our congregation has about 100 members, with between 60 and 70 in worship on an average Sunday. A majority of members are elderly, with a smattering of children and teenagers. All ages were present for the participatory sermon. 

When we entered the church sanctuary, we found that instead of the regular configuration of pews facing forward, the seats had been switched around and tables had been added. Each table had a printed responsive reading and a scripture from Proverbs extolling the virtues of Wisdom.

Folks came in, and found “new” seats at tables ― sitting somewhere they don’t usually sit.  Most tables had at least two generations represented. At least one table had three. Our children stayed for the entire service instead of adjourning to Sunday church school mid-service as they usually do.

The first part of the service followed our regular order of worship, with announcements, opening hymns, prayers of confession, scripture readings, and a very short reflection from Pastor Sarah Wiles.

Then we watched a short (about five-minute) audiovisual presentation about some of the places the school kits had been distributed in the past, and where they might be going in the future.

Pastor Sarah invited us to share our experiences of honoring God with our hands and minds as we began the process of stuffing the school bags.

Then our folks ― young and old ― proceeded to gather the ingredients and stuff the bags. As we stuffed, we talked about children in need around the world: in Syria, at our country’s southern border, in places ravaged by tornados and other natural disasters.

We all agreed that we liked doing a service project during worship. Older members who are mostly homebound during the week but who regularly get a ride to church on Sunday were especially appreciative of the opportunity to do something for the world as part of their worship. 

A member with pretty severe dementia was able to help stuff bags. Another member, suffering from ALS and confined to a wheelchair, wasn’t able to help, but he looked on appreciatively while his wife and professional caregiver stuffed bags.

A very short time later, 100 bags were stuffed, and ready to be packed and shipped care of Ferncliff Disaster Assistance Center in Little Rock, Ark., which serves both CWS and PDA.

We prayed over the completed bags as we collected the offering and sang the doxology.

Following the prayers of the people, we sang our final hymn and were dismissed to go and serve the world ― especially the children, who desperately need our love and assistance.

Abbie Watters is a member of Bethany Presbyterian Church, where she is in charge of hospitality and outreach. She blogs at http://abbiewatters.wordpress.com/.

  1. This is wonderful and we, as Christians should follow your example to be the hands and feet of Jesus. To think of those children who will be blessed by the bags that were filled by people who love them and love the Lord.

    by karen curtis

    September 21, 2014

  2. I love this idea! Congratulations to Bethany for trying a fresh, new approach! What a wonderful way to worship and serve!

    by Caryl Johnson

    September 9, 2014