The image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples reminds us that we, as Christians, are called to serve others. The UCC's volunteer ministries offers ways for UCC members to use their talents to help others, in opportunities ranging from volunteering at national gatherings like General Synod and the National Youth Event to going on mission trips. Each year, between 100 and 150 persons take part in the Partners in Service program, serving for terms lasting anywhere from two weeks to a year or more. In addition, more than 300 volunteers participate annually in FAST (Faithful Advocates Serving Together), an educational work trip experience in partnership with the Commission on Religion in Appalachia.
Natalie Lacy of St. John's UCC in La Pointe, Wis., works on a rug at the Woods Hall looms. Birdie Pallas photo.
Even before retiring, the Rev. Ed Finertie of Pierre, S.D., knew he wasn't ready to slow down just yet. Each year, he eyed the Mission Trip Opportunities list published by the UCC's volunteer ministries office, knowing that retirement would afford him the time he needed to plunge into a new area of ministry.
Shortly after Finertie completed the extensive Partners in Service application process, listing his strengths and weaknesses, and preferences for placement, he received a call. "They told me, 'Well, they need someone right now in Hawaii.'" Finertie smiles. "I said, 'Okay. I hadn't thought of that!'" Before he knew it, Finertie was packing his bags for a three-month stint at Lani Kamah'o, a church camp in Hawaii.
From there, he became pastor-at-large for the Dakota Association-South Dakota. His two-year commitment there is up in June. Overseeing the work of 12 American Indian churches on four different reservations keeps Finertie traveling to the various parishes each week to preach or perform the sacraments. He does some teaching and training, as well as counseling. "I'm a pastor to the pastors," he says.
When Finertie attends the volunteer ministries annual retreat in Daytona Beach, Fla., Finertie will seek out the Rev. Kathleen Ackley, executive for volunteer ministries, to determine where his next posting might take him.
For Finertie, volunteer ministries means staying active after retirement in ways he never dreamed of during his 40 years as a parish minister. "For me, the word 'different' is the operative word," Finertie explains. "I like doing different things and living in different places."
Listing makes finding mission trips easier
Allison Van Skiver, youth director at both First Congregational UCC and Rockford United Methodist Church in Rockford, Mich., got hooked on mission trips a few years ago when she was youth leader at her home church, Second Congregational UCC in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I decided we needed to give back something to God for all we'd been gifted," she says.
Later, when Van Skiver saw volunteer ministries' Mission Trips Opportunities booklet for the first time, mission trip planning suddenly became a lot easier. "It's so helpful, the way it narrows the array down. You decide where you want to go, and what style of ministry you want to do," she says.
Since learning about the UCC's volunteer ministries, Van Skiver has taken her youth group to Appalachia as part of the COAP (Christian Outreach with the Appalachian People) project, then a Youth Services Opportunity Project (YSOP) in New York City and also to Re-Member, a UCC-based mission at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Last October, Van Skiver attended Mission Trips 101, a conference in Biloxi, Miss., sponsored by volunteer ministries and Back Bay Mission. Attending the conference with the variety of people—seminary students, pastors, lay people and youth pastors - allowed Van Skiver to network and brainstorm about planning and organizing a mission trip, fund raising, and defending the decision to go on a trip when others may be skeptical.
"Some might say, 'There's a lot to do around here. Why don't you stay here and work?'" says Van Skiver. But to her, the answer is clear: Mission trips are exactly what Christians are called to do.
"My church and this area is mostly made up of white, suburban, middle- to upper-class people. Ninety percent of my kids will go to a state college or a private college in state. They're going to get jobs here in Michigan and they're going to stay in the type of community they were brought up in.
Van Skiver sees mission trips as an opportunity to help her youth group teens see the world while helping others.
"To take them to New York City to work in homeless shelters or to the Indian reservation to learn about Indian culture and really get a history lesson is something they would never see here," she says. "That is of utmost importance to me."
Van Skiver doesn't expect her youth group students to change the world in a week, but she does hope that each experience plants a seed that will grow. "I pray it stays in their heart, and that they'll always remember it," she says. "Hopefully, they'll want to take their own kids, or to go again. Maybe they'll change one small thing in their life that could eventually do something to better the world."
'Paint and Patch' partners with schools
Years ago, St. Paul's UCC in New Orleans started a ministry of paintbrushes with "Paint and Patch," a volunteer effort to spruce up exteriors of homes with a fresh coat of paint. Sue Schenken remembers being involved. "We started this in a drought, so painting the exteriors during the summer was not that difficult," she says with a laugh. But when tropical storms hit New Orleans and more typical, rainy weather returned to the city, painting exteriors proved next to impossible.
Painting interiors of homes also proved problematic—the insurance liability of taking crews of 20 into small, residential homes was too great. Paint and Patch needed a new mission.
Schenken, an English as a Second Language teacher at Warren Easton High School in inner-city New Orleans, was walking the halls of her school one day when the idea hit her: many of the classrooms in the school had old, chipped and peeling paint. Why not paint and patch the classrooms? With a nod from her principal and some coordinating with the custodial staff, Paint and Patch was back in business.
"It's a fabulous marriage," says Schenken, who is now the coordinator of the program. The schools do not have to pay for the paint or the labor, but Schenken says that some teachers were so happy to have the work done that they donated the paint for the project.
Groups come from all over the country to help paint, and Schenken is gratified by the response.
"The first year we did this, it was because we had the ad in the UCC's volunteer ministries Mission Trip Opportunities listing that we got phone calls and people came," she says. "Now, a lot of it is word of mouth. We had to turn a lot of people away this summer." Schenken hopes that other churches might pick up on the idea and start similar "paint and patch" programs in their own areas.
"It seems so obvious," says Schenken. "It's the perfect place to work. The inner city public schools need so much money and so much attention. We could be painting in this town for 20 years. "Every church in the city could have a youth group coming in to paint the schools."
Volunteers bring hope after disasters
In May 2003, some 600 tornadoes touched down in the state of Missouri alone. More than 6,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. As the only staff member of the Missouri Interfaith Disaster Response Organization, Crousore, member of Columbia (Mo.) UCC, collaborates with the UCC's volunteer ministries and national disaster ministries offices, as well as with similar agencies from other denominations. Crousore and the various groups work to assure that the victims of the disasters receive the support and resources they need.
Volunteer groups travel to Missouri to do recovery work, ranging from debris cleanup to building homes. Many disaster victims need financial support the most, but Crousore says there are times when the greatest need is a pair of helping hands. For instance, 500 acres of prime farmland are currently out of production because of debris from the tornadoes. "When we think about debris, we think about roadside trash, but we're really talking about debris from houses or churches that were torn down and scattered over the fields," says Crousore. "A lot of that is fiberglass insulation."
The insulation is a problem because its tiny glass shards can be deadly to cattle, even in small amounts. Dozens of youth groups are needed, says Crousore, to follow the farmer on his tractor and pick up the fiberglass, piece by piece. In addition, 600 miles of fence need to be fixed, so that herds can't get loose. Faith-based groups like the UCC's volunteer ministries help Crousore get the job done.
Crousore says that doing a volunteer work trip, even to a nearby locale, takes planning and forethought. "Volunteer ministries makes it happen," he says. "They make it real."
Next year, Volunteer Ministries will celebrate 50 years of faithful service. To be part of this exciting ministry, please contact the Rev. Kathleen Crockford Ackley toll free at 866-822-8224, ext. 3214; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or Kelley Milligan at 866-822-8224, ext. 3216; e-mail email@example.com to request the brochure, "Engaging in Meaningful Service." To learn about more volunteer opportunities, visit the volunteer ministries web page at ucc.org/ministries/volunteer.