Two local churches will perform acts of kindness in their communities during the coming week. It's all part of "Celebrate Jesus," a campaign by the United Methodist Church to reach beyond church walls and minister in neighborhoods.
Fifteen churches in the Gulf Central area of Florida will participate, including First United Methodist Church of Brooksville and Spring Lake United Methodist Church.
About 2,300 volunteers in more than 200 churches in Florida have participated in the campaign since it originated a decade ago in Clearwater as an adaptation of a British program begun in the 1980s. According to the program's website, the British Methodist Church felt its churches were failing to live out the Great Commission to "awaken passion and equip people to share the Gospel and reach neighbors for Jesus Christ."
The Rev. Jeffrey Ice, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Brooksville, is hoping the event will indeed enlarge the focus of his church.
"Like a lot of typical mainline churches, this church hasn't been knocking on doors and sharing Christ with people," he said. "People in this church want to go beyond that but didn't know how, so this (event) is a tool to help us."
The Rev. Todd Stube, pastor of the Spring Lake church, said his congregation wants to "take responsibility for our area and specifically pray for each household and business."
Both churches plan to make personal contact with their neighbors throughout the week in several ways.
Ice's church will hand out bottles of water on the streets; visit shut-ins, retirement homes and hospitals; and take cookies to local businesses. Volunteers also will give businesses a list they have prepared telling people what services are provided by the local churches.
"Being that the economy is so rough right now, all the businesses have people coming in seeking help," Ice said. "So we're equipping them with a list to show people where to go for food, clothing or whatever they may need."
They also plan to visit homes.
"This is Methodists knocking on doors," Ice noted, laughing. "We'll be handing people a little gift, trinkets in a bag, and inviting them to a block party where there will be free food and free music. Before we leave, we will ask if there is anything we can pray for them about."
The block party will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the church.
Ice said he participated in Celebrate Jesus events three times when he lived in Miami before becoming a minister in Brooksville.
"At first, people (we approached) have their guards up, and some are rude or indifferent," he said. "But then you come across those people who realize you're sincere and that we don't want anything from them — that we really mean it. Their guard goes down, and then we really hear their prayer needs."
Volunteers collecting prayer requests will place them on the church's altar.
"While we are out knocking on doors, there's a team of people praying for them and the ministries in the sanctuary," he said. "As the week goes by, they will continue praying over the requests that come in and will continue beyond that week."
People who give prayer requests will be invited to a prayer service the following week, Ice said.
Stube said prayer and making personal home visits are important parts of his church's plans as well.
"This is essentially a prayer ministry," he said. "We'll offer people a little packet of information, and we'll offer to take their prayer requests. If they've got questions, we're available to listen. That's our approach on it. We're just excited to see what God may do in response to prayer."
Stube said his church has "adopted" the Hill 'n Dale community, and volunteers have plans to hand out a small bag of groceries to homes they visit there. The church also will host a special sports event at the community's park on Thursday.
In addition, his church will visit area businesses and hand out coffee, doughnuts and water to people.
"The main event is what we're calling a Spring Lake Splash block party on Saturday," Stube said.
The free event will be from 3 to 8 p.m. at the church.
Ice said he hopes the coming week is the beginning of something new for his church.
"Even though we will be sincerely reaching out to the community, this will be for us more than them," he said. "Who knows what God's going to do? But mainly, we will grow closer together and become outward focused. I really feel it's going to change us more than anything."