Serving Our Community
The Mission Service Ministries of Westminster are involved in service- and mission-related activities. While we believe that salvation comes by grace alone, we believe that our faith calls us to action through service. This service is carried out, not by reaching down to help someone up, but by reaching across to our fellow human beings. We are acting out our faith in a variety of ways and can use whatever gifts members of the congregation have.
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt. 25:37-40
This passage from Matthew sums up well why we do what we do. We do mission because we want to, not because we have to in order to earn our way into heaven. We don’t try to solve all the world’s problems, but we do try to make our community a part of God’s kingdom.
Community Service Projects
The name FISH is derived from the biblical symbol of a fish that was used as a sign of distress, a plea for help from one’s neighbors. Some thirty years ago churches in West Knox County organized FISH to help the people of Knox County who were in need of food and other assistance. Westminster has been a part of this effort from the beginning.
In Knox County, FISH does two main things. (1) It provides free bags of food (and occasionally other emergency items, such as diapers, soap, and toothpaste) to people who request such assistance. (2) It creates opportunities for volunteers to have brief phone or face-to-face conversations with those in need and to hear first-hand of their concerns.
How does FISH operate at Westminster?
Westminster is one of about thirty churches helping to reduce hunger in our community by participating in FISH. Each church covers a different day of the month. Our church directs a sizable portion of its “mission service” budget to our FISH operation, and several dedicated volunteers from WPC make sure that food ends up in the homes of the needy on “our” FISH day. If you’d like to help with FISH, please call the church office (584-3957).
We are responsible for answering the FISH phone for about two hours on the second Thursday of each month, delivering pre-packed bags of food that same day, and reporting each month on the number of families — and especially the number of children — we help.
Each year during the month of June, it is Westminster’s turn to help stock our FISH Pantry at the Church of the Savior of Weisgarber Road. For stocking the Pantry we need help in packing the food bags so they will be ready when our delivery teams need them.
Being involved in FISH is a highly rewarding activity. On the one hand, it provides the satisfaction on “doing outreach” where there’s a critical need: hunger relief. (Over 45,000 people in Knox County live below the poverty line, including approximately 14,000 children). On the other hand, Westminster’s FISH operation is “staffed” by people who are other-centered, helpful, and fun to be around.
If you deliver food, you will be paired with someone (or perhaps you have a spouse or friend you would like to make the deliveries with), and you’ll make approximately four deliveries. Remember, the more people we have to answer the phones and make deliveries each month, the more families we will be able to help! It doesn’t take much time, the “work” isn’t very taxing, and it’s quite O.K. to be involved some months but not others. Several of our volunteers use their lunch break to make their deliveries, while others do theirs the first thing in the morning — it’s up to you.
Collection Drive for FISH Community Chest Thrift Shop
On the first Saturday of each month, clothing and small household items will be collected from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. by our church neighbor, Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 800 Northshore Drive, to support FISH Hospitality Pantries’ Community Chest Thrift Shop and benefit local families in need. You can also take items to the Community Chest during its hours of operation; it is located at 122 W. Scott Avenue, Knoxville 37917 (telephone: 971-4417) and open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Community Chest-Knoxville, a not-for-profit shop for clothing and small household items, serves all but focuses service to those in distressed situations and those with low incomes. Volunteers are needed. Call Community Chest at (865) 971-4417.
Why I Deliver for FISH
A FISH Volunteer
Years ago when I began to deliver food for FISH, I did so for two reasons. First, it simply “felt good” to do a good deed. Second, the experience of driving to places where “the poor” live caused me to stop taking so many things for granted. After delivering my grocery bags, I’d think of myself as a “Good Samaritan” who had just followed the Golden Rule. And I’d remind myself, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
As I look back to those early days of my “career” with FISH, I’m highly embarrassed at how self-centered and arrogant I was. I wrongly considered myself to be better and better-off than those who called FISH and requested food. Worse than that, I now see that I was “using” the poor in a self-serving manner. For me to deliver so I could “feel good” and appreciate more what I have (because I had just seen what they don’t have) was to exploit the very people I wanted to help.
These days, I still deliver food for FISH. Now, however, my reasons for doing so are entirely different. I credit this change in attitude to the great theologian Henri Nouwen. In his book Our Greatest Gift, Nouwen argues persuasively that it’s wrong to think in “we-they” terms, that we’re truly different from others only in superficial ways, and that one of the greatest joys we can experience is to realize that we are (and I use his words) “brother and sister of all people.”
I eagerly await my next “FISH delivery day.” That’s the case not because I’ll feel better about myself when finished, but instead because of the “sharing” that will take place during my deliveries. What my FISH “clients” and I share may turn out to be simply a smile or a comment about the weather, though I hope it’ll be — as it has often been before — something about our families or other concerns of the heart. I’ll never know, of course, the impact (if any) of what I share with them. But I can speak with confidence as to the probable impact on me of what I’ll hear. Most likely, I will learn yet another “life lesson” that’ll allow me to see and think more clearly due to the lived wisdom that’s shared with me.
One of Westminster’s important mission projects involves preparing and serving some of the meals at the VMC. A group from our church does the breakfast on third Sundays and the lunch on fourth Sundays. This is not only a way to help the powerless in our community but also a way to get to know those with whom you worship at church each Sunday!
The breakfast coordinator is always looking for early risers in the congregation. On the third Sunday of each month, the volunteers head for the VMC about 5:50 a.m.!
For the lunches that are prepared and served on the fourth Sunday of each month, the coordinator and volunteers go to the VMC at 10 a.m.
Westminster’s “Two Cents a Meal” offering, received on the first Sunday of each month, goes for purchasing the food used to prepare these two meals (the cost for this food is between $200 and $250 a month). Currently we are feeding over 100 people every month at each of these meals. Look at it this way: by setting aside just two cents for each meal that you eat, you help enable Westminster to provide about 200 individual meals each month for the needy! (If you happen to forget to bring your pennies, or if you would like to make an additional donation, “folding money” or checks are welcome, too.)
As a mission of the Presbytery of East Tennessee, UKirk at UTK is committed to being a home away from home for all students. We are a place of refuge, a safe space to ask questions, an environment where we can learn from one another and experience all the ways we can be the hands and feet of Christ in our community and around the world.
We hope you’ll stop by and give us an opportunity to extend a warm welcome. Whether you’re a freshman or non-traditional student, Presbyterian or not Presbyterian, you’re invited. http://www.ukirkutk.org