South Charlotte

Outreach efforts gaining urgency

As area congregations in southern Mecklenburg, Union and York counties ramp up their outreach programs for this fall and winter, they face an interesting conundrum:

Can they help others this season when their own members may be hurting?

The people in their pews are hardly immune to what's happening to the rest of Charlotte – from coping with banking woes to the sluggish economy, high food prices and more.

Some spiritual leaders say while it may still take a while for the full impact to reach their ranks, they're seeing some of the stresses already in the form of more phone calls and face-to-face requests for help.

“Certainly we anticipate more people coming to us with their needs because of the downturn of the economy,” said Executive Pastor Scott Vail of Calvary Church in south Mecklenburg. The church takes a Christmas Eve offering for its benevolence program so that members in need can get help with bills, food, gas or other expenses.

The challenges don't relieve them of their duty to help others, leaders say. “We're going to help our congregants experiencing difficulties, but we're also going to go beyond that and partner with the community,” said Sara Schreibman, executive director of Temple Beth El.

Among congregations' new initiatives, expectations and goals this year:

Elevation Church, with an office in Lake Park in Union and church campuses in southern Mecklenburg and uptown, is expanding its number of partner charities from four to 20, said John Bishop, ministries pastor. The church plans to donate $175,000 to these organizations between now and the end of the year, Bishop said.

The church averages about 4,300 members who have increased their donations as times tighten, Bishop said. “As the economy is going down the tubes now is the time for us to step up and do what we should have always done,” he said.

Pastor Jeff Bedwell of First Baptist Church of Fort Mill said his 1,100-member church has set a goal of filling 1,000 shoeboxes this fall for Samaritan's Purse. The international Christian relief organization provides spiritual and physical aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disaster and disease. “We're just getting started with this, but we feel…our church can help children in need all around the globe,” Bedwell said.

Places like Temple Beth El, The Park Ministries, Sardis Baptist Church and other congregations are involved in Room in the Inn, providing emergency shelter for homeless people. Leaders expect to serve more women and children this season, a trend building in recent years.

Rev. Tim Moore of Sardis Baptist in southern Mecklenburg takes this as a sign of increasing homelessness in the city, because the priority is to help women and children first. Minister Kim Alexander with The Park Ministries, which has one of its three campuses in Pineville, said its women's ministry is launching a towel and washcloth drive for homeless women and will help sponsor birthday parties for homeless children.

“When government steps back, of course church has to step up,” Alexander said. “The church has to provide – not just to offer Christ, but to also offer a coat.”

Reporter Dan Huntley