It’s called Serving Our Neighbors (SON) Weekend, and it’s all about providing acts of kindness and mercy for others, just as Jesus described in Matthew 25:34-40 when He told followers, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The latest SON Weekend took place Sept. 27-29 in the townships of Orland Park and Palos Park, outside of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois.
“It’s all about serving our neighbors in any way we need to be there for them,” said Clyde Rode, co-chair of the SON Weekend event along with Linda Kuhn. “We try to understand their situation and help them out, just to make their life a little easier.”
Palos Park Presbyterian Community Church Pastor James Tony said the program is one of inspiration as the congregation does “mission work at home.”
“We try to emphasize that it’s not what we get from doing this but about the Lord we serve,” he explained. “We try to engage our clients and share the love of Christ with them. There is so much gratitude from them, and they express it. They seem to be in amazement of the work done for them.”
The program got its start at PPPCC four years ago. The Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation had a spiritual growth weekend for a number of years that featured guest speakers discussing various topics. About 75-100 people from the church of approximately 550 members attended.
A group of members, including Rode, met and started talking about the need to take the spiritual growth weekend outside the walls of the church and do more to serve their neighbors. That was the rise of the SON Weekend as it has come to be known.
“We’d always had adult and children’s mission programs, but this grassroots effort gave us a chance to expand what we were doing, to do something to serve our neighbors,” Rode said. “The reaction has been phenomenal.”
A positive reaction was the case the last weekend of September when more than 200 church members turned out for the annual event. People of all ages worked together on a variety of community projects at homes in and around the Palos Park and Orland Park townships.
Leaders within those townships provided the names of people in need of work around their homes as well as the locations. Once they had the sites, assessors from the church determined the work that needed to be done, and teams were formed to handle the tasks at each location. This year, there were close to 25 projects addressed by the PPPCC teams.
Rode said homes of elderly people who could not take care of issues were target sites along with those of people dealing with financial difficulties or those with physical limitations that hindered their ability to perform work around their homes. No one from the church had any input in the vetting process. Members simply provided the man (woman and child) power needed to help their neighbors.
Teams of caregivers, comprised of the church’s Stephen Ministry and deacons, went to the homes and met with residents, addressing their physical and spiritual needs before the teams began their work, a minimum of six hours on Saturday, Sept. 28 following organization and a meal for workers on Friday, Sept. 27.
The work done encompassed a wide variety of tasks, including, but not limited to washing windows, painting, cleaning gutters, caulking, cleaning carpet, hanging insulation, yard work, removal of debris and even some minor repairs.
“There are a lot of folks struggling, and this is a way to meet needs,” Tony said. “Some of these people are affected by joblessness or illness, or just get swamped by life. This is our way of reaching out to them.”
The church provides the supplies and materials needed for the projects through partnerships established with local businesses to take care of the work, in addition to the assistance given by the caregivers and a gift provided to the clients being served. Lunch and a devotion are provided on Saturday at the various job sites, and the clients are invited to take part.
“With their struggles, maybe these people are not at a place where they can help themselves,” Tony said. “Often there is a spiritual need as well. We are available to share the good news that God loves them, and we do too. They need to know that Jesus Christ is there to help them. We’re Christians, and we want Him to be known. This work is about Him, not the institution.”
A touching ministry
On Sunday, the last day of the event, a breakfast that includes all the workers – those on the sites as well as those who prepared and delivered food or just prayed – takes place, and invitations are extended to the clients served the previous day. Many of them attend and stay for the worship service afterward.
Tony said the whole event is a worthwhile experience and a blessing for all involved but more an act of obedience.
“It’s meant to be quite meaningful,” he said, getting choked up a bit as he talked. “It’s really a sacrifice for people to give up their time, but they love to be involved. We just want to obey our savior when He told us to love our neighbors. It’s about obedience, not a reward for what we do.”
Rode acknowledged that most members of PPPCC live in an affluent area of Cook County and may not be in contact with many of the people they seek to help. But a number of relationships have come from SON Weekend work the last four years.
“Some lasting relationships have been built between our members and clients. We’ve been able to befriend them by developing a tremendous trust and continue to assist them privately,” he said.
While the goal is about obediently heeding God’s call to help neighbors, there is no emphasis placed on recruiting members, even though several clients have joined the church as a result of the ministry they experienced first-hand.
“It’s one of those things that brings the community together, and we get so much out of this,” Rode said. “The reaction has been phenomenal.”
The initiative has expanded beyond Palos Park and Orland Park. Rode said officials with Palos Park have shared their program with fellow Chicago Presbytery congregation Southminster Presbyterian Church in nearby Arlington Heights, which is in the second year of offering its God Energizing Mission (GEM) Program.