Sharing UMC’s warmth in frigid Philadelphia

By John W. Coleman

A handful of spirited church members joined a young street-marketing team on the shivering sidewalks of Philadelphia’s Center City last weekend to offer hot cocoa and a warm Christmas welcome to passers-by. Their friendly, outgoing presence embodied United Methodist Communications’ (UMCom) “Rethink Church” advertising slogan, “Church can happen anywhere.”

The Advent-timed creative outreach campaign was launched simultaneously in nine U.S. major cities, just as our area’s temperatures plummeted below freezing. Thus, what also dropped were the numbers of shoppers, tourists and other pedestrians that our cocoa invasion team expected to encounter.

Nevertheless, the young, red-scarfed “Ambassadors of Cheer” wandered around outside popular Philly venues pouring free hot cocoa for hundreds of surprised passers-by. Meanwhile, volunteers from area churches greeted folks and handed them colorful Rethink Church postcards inviting them to search online and find a friendly neighborhood United Methodist church to visit at Christmas time or whenever.

The young ambassadors, hired locally by UMCom’s contracted marketing firm, greeted chilly visitors to City Hall’s Christmas Village and “Made in Philadelphia” Holiday Market on Thursday, Dec. 15. On Friday they moved to SEPTA’s Lombard South Station and the South 9th Street Italian Market.

??????????????The Rev. David Tatgenhorst, pastor of St. Luke UMC in Bryn Mawr, and Lima UMC lay leader Sabrina Daluisio joined them there, as the Conference Communications Office continued to appeal for more volunteers.

Saturday’s rain, wind and cold severely limited the number of volunteers and visitors at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. But the team fared better on Sunday afternoon giving out cocoa and invitation cards on the sidewalks and street corners around Geno’s and Pat’s, two Philly Cheesesteak institutions. Krystl Johnson, of St. Daniel’s UMC in Chester, joined the operation; so did the Rev. Nancy Ross and her husband Jack, of Quakertown.

“A lot of people were surprised that we gave them free cocoa and a postcard but didn’t ask them for donations,” said one ambassador outside City Hall. “They asked us to tell them about The United Methodist Church.”

CocoaAmbassadors,CheesesteakCorner3Indeed, some did ask questions about the church—its locations, beliefs and ministries. But John, an employed but homeless young man, asked if any nearby churches had a shelter where he could stay. Michael, wearing wraparound sunglasses, said he is a longtime member of Marshallton UMC but also enjoys worship at a nearby Friends Meeting House.

Team members received lots of praise for the free cocoa and even a donated pack of cookies from one shopper. They also took plenty of photos, including selfies, with friendly, satisfied customers.

Meanwhile, a mobile, digital billboard emblazoned with vivid Rethink Church ads was driven up and down the streets where the team worked each day, offering a visual reminder of the key message that “For United Methodists church can happen anywhere.”

Adding another timely, visual reminder are the Rethink Church television ads that are running on stations nationally this month through Dec. 25. Individuals and churches can download and view the ads on UMCom’s website.

And for photos of our Ambassadors of Cheer team and our volunteers at work and play, check out our various social media pages on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Instagram.  Also visit UMCom’s #UMCcocoa and #RethinkChurch pages on Facebook to see more Rethink Church Cocoa Outreach scenes that happened in other major cities.