Even in frigid Philly, ‘church can happen anywhere’

By John W. Coleman

We believe that for United Methodists “church can happen anywhere,” and it’s happening this weekend in and around Philadelphia’s chilly Center City. But we need more volunteers to come share some heartwarming love over hot cocoa.

Yes, it was cold Thursday and Friday--very cold–and it’s supposed to be wet, although warmer, on Saturday and Sunday. But that’s when hot cocoa and warm, welcoming smiles can do the most good.

Our young “Ambassadors of Cheer” (seen in the photo) are pouring free cocoa for surprised passers-by at popular Philly tourism spots with lots of foot-traffic. Meanwhile, church volunteers greet visitors warmly and hand them colorful postcards inviting them to find and visit their friendly neighborhood United Methodist church at Christmas time or whenever.

But “the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:35-38) We’re asking the Lord to please send us more willing and able laborers so the ambassadors, who are not members of our churches, don’t have to represent us on their own.

The Rev. David Tatgenhorst, pastor of St. Luke UMC, joined us on Friday. We have a deacon, a retired pastor, a lay leader, a Christ Servant Minister and a working grad student all promising to come pitch in for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday. But we need more hands and hearts on deck to help share the love of Christ and represent the people and churches of the UMC.

“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 Thursday. “They asked us to tell them about The United Methodist Church.”


On Friday we offered free cocoa and postcards outside SEPTA’s Lombard South Station on Broad and up and down the South 9th Street Italian Market (919 S. 9th St.)

Saturday’s times have been changed to account for the weather forecast. From 12 noon to 5 PM we’ll roam outside greeting visitors to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Reading Terminal Market and adjacent venues.

And finally, on Sunday, from 11 AM to 6 PM, we’ll be warming folks up around Geno’s Steaks (1219 S. 9th St.) and Pat’s King of Steaks (1237 E Passyunk Ave.), either before or after they enjoy their cheesesteak sandwiches.

Not sure what to say when you greet someone? We’ve providing volunteers with suggested conversation starters and talking points. Although volunteers may offer invitations to their own churches, we want the people they greet to visit RethinkChurch.org and use the Find-a-Church page to locate a church near them.

Also, while we’re pouring cups of hot cocoa and handing out postcards, a mobile billboard will be circulating our locations each day offering a visual reminder of our message that “For United Methodists church can happen anywhere.”

So never mind the cold. Just grab your coat, scarf, hat and gloves, and come join us in the mission field for a few hours. Bring big coat pockets or a bag to hold postcards, a warm, friendly smile, a sense of humor, and a real desire to share the spirit of Christmas with strangers of all races and ages. Then you’ll be more than ready to help us make this creative Advent outreach campaign a big success.

You may even find your heart feeling ‘strangely warmed,” and won’t that make Methodism’s founder John Wesley proud?