Churches step up during government shutdown

By Madeline Pillow

Feb. 6, 2019 --The government shutdown from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 was the longest shutdown in United States history. For individuals affected it meant living with loss of payment which, in turn, affected their families and their livelihood. For churches, it meant finding a way to be the hands and feet of Christ to those affected. From Staunton to Virginia Beach to Northern Virginia, churches around the Virginia Conference found ways to be of service. From providing free community meals for furloughed workers to free haircuts, ways to give ramped up.

A safety net of God’s love

At Courthouse Community UMC in Virginia Beach, the Rev. Beth Anderson said the church immediately starting discussing ways they could help. The church’s food pantry became the focal point of this aid; in order to make it easier, staff decided to cut out the normal paperwork for the center and just asked for a federal ID from federal employees and contractors. The church then provided ready to go bags of food for both. 

Dominque and Sophia were two middle school students who collected food staples of their own
volition for furloughed workers and brought them to Courthouse Community UMC.

A church member also offered the services for free haircuts. A barber by trade, the member had a van specially designed to be a mobile barbershop providing haircuts, shampoos and shaves from anywhere.  The church has federal workers in their church from Coast Guard service members to Homeland Security, and the church quite naturally rallied around its members, reaching out, offering help and going to visit their neighbors. 

“We personally reached out to the members of our church and then they shared with their friends and community,” said Anderson. “People were ready to just do anything.” 

Anderson shared that this reaching out and acknowledgement brought comfort and peace to these individuals. 

A member reached out to Anderson and shared how much her faith has grown through this process and how she felt she had people –family now—at the church that cared about her and her family. “She said she felt that the church became a safety net of God’s love,” Anderson said. “What a beautiful image.” 

The care didn’t end with just the church. One Wednesday, two middle school girls with no affiliation to the church showed up with staple food items they had gone door to door collecting for furloughed workers. They knew the church had a food pantry and a free community dinner that the food could be put to good use. 

Anderson said this is indicative of the church’s presence is the community. “They just know who we are and what we do.”

Anderson said she felt that the church needed to do something during the shutdown because of what the Gospel calls all Christians to do. 

“It has nothing to do with what side you’re on,” Anderson said. “This is what’s happened and when something happens to our community, we need to respond. We didn’t respond with any politics, we just responded with God’s love.” 

Willing and able

At Galilee UMC in Sterling, the Rev. Jason Duley shared that the members who sit in the pews every week are largely government workers and government contractors.  The church, much like Courthouse Community, was immediately ready to find ways to help. 

“Our church had a really good heart about I, and I am blessed that the church was just ready to help,” said Duley.

Finding the best way to help as a church started with prayer, Duley said. 

  Materials were gathered in Galilee UMC for the “Pop-Up Market."

“First and foremost, we went to prayer,” Duley said. “Our prayer team and our Sunday morning prayer led by pastors acknowledged and let people know that the first thing your church can do for you is pray and provide moral support. The second thing we can do is we can resource you.”

Duley said that like some other churches he had seen, Galilee provided a shutdown resource list that they shared with their congregation. Director of Serve Rebecca Makowski then shared the idea to partner through the church’s existing relationship with Loudoun Hunger Relief. The organization planned to do several “Pop-Up Markets” around the area in high-traffic community areas through different churches as hosts. 

Galilee was the first site for the events on Jan. 24. From 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. volunteers from the church and hunger relief organization gathered to prepare bags of food, providing fresh produce and non-perishable staple items. 

“These volunteers from the church and from the organization really had a great spirit,” Duley said. “It was about being sensitive to the situation and being encouraging to those who visited to keep it light.”  Duley shared that around 30 people showed up to the event. 

“It didn’t reach the numbers that we thought it would, but we were there,” Duley said. 

Duley shared that it was important for the church to be an aid during the government shutdown because he sees churches as a "middle way."

“Churches really live in that space between governmental organization and individuals,” said Duley. “Churches become this middle way, this place where it seems like a safe space, a loving space. We want to represent Jesus’ hands and feet in a place where the not for profits might not be able to reach or our government might not reach. 

“These are our people. These are our neighbors, whether they go to the church or not. Our neighbors in this area work for the government, so the church should be this place where people can turn and even if we don’t have exactly what they are looking for we can connect them with who they are looking for."

Duley also shared that a church member came to him immediately when the shutdown started and wanting to shared funds should Duley hear of someone in need. Though the money ended up not being used it was given to the church’s community assistance fund. 

“It was nice to know that there was a church member whose generosity, from the first week of the government shutdown, was already directed to people in need,” said Duley. 

Duley shared that he sees how much his church wants to be in that in-between space, a place where individuals can come especially if other aids fall through.  

“It is good to know how the church sees itself—that we are that resource when the government doesn’t have a resource or when the not-for-profits we partner with don’t have it.” 

Another government shutdown? 

Duley affirmed that his church will be ready should another government shutdown happen. 

“This particular shutdown really put on our radar the need for a plan of action so that our church leaders, staff and volunteer leaders can immediately go into action doing what we have done before and hopefully even a little bit more,” Duley said. 

He said the church has a very strong Stephen Ministry program and they would want to make that counsel available to a larger community should it be called for. 

Anderson shared that their church also plans to aid again should another shutdown happen after the temporary government reopening until Feb. 15. The weeks in between will just give them time for a reprieve and time to restock their resources. 

“I hope it doesn’t happen, but should it happen the church will be here,” Anderson said.

-Madeline Pillow is Advocate editor and the conference Communications director. 


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