Sep 27, 2023

Forty-one members of Epworth United Methodist Church in Bethlehem shared in a fast and furious, one-week Mission Blitz, this past summer, serving needs of others in their church and community. It was an intergenerational labor of love, with volunteers ranging from age 2 to some in their late 70s.  

Mission Blitz Week, held from July 26 to August 1, is a local, short-term mission experience “that we plan in our own backyard,” said the Rev. Nina Patton-Semerod, Epworth’s pastor. It’s an alternative to the more distant mission travel experiences that only some church members can take every other year.  

“Epworth’s travel mission trips exclude many volunteers who can’t take a week off work or leave home for the week.  During Mission Blitz Week volunteers could sign up for a day or for the whole week to serve our community.” 

The church coordinates with local mission partners to work in their facilities. “At our local emergency shelter, we spackled walls, served over 100 people in their summer lunch program and installed new shelving,” Patton-Semerod reported.  “At Bloom for Women, a safehouse for survivors of sex trafficking, we replaced a kitchen and stairway ceiling and painted a pantry.”

As a new addition to the weeklong biennial blitz this past summer, volunteers also did yard work at church members’ homes, helped a family move, and did much-needed chores at the church. That included painting the kitchen, weeding the playground and building a Blessing Box to help supply neighbors with needs.  

On Sunday, nearly 40 volunteers stay after worship for fellowship while assembling 75 UMCOR hygiene kits for disaster survivors and writing Christmas cards to be sent to people in prison.

“I have always felt strongly that as Christians, it is our responsibility to do for others as Christ would do for us,” said Karen Shadle, who, as missions committee chairperson, worked countless hours to coordinate the week. A mother, grandmother and member of Epworth for almost 20 years, the former youth leader felt God’s call to become more involved in missions work. “My husband Bob often serves with me.  I feel that serving together has made us much more connected to each other.  

“One of the most powerful parts of Mission Blitz for me is getting to hear stories of those whom we serve,” she shared, “and how our team has made an impact in their lives. It’s an extremely exhausting week, but the satisfaction of helping others makes that exhaustion worth it and often energizes me for the next blitz.” 

For Julie and Shawn Wydrzynski, serving as a family with their two children during Mission Blitz was “a memorable and wonderful experience. It felt great doing work that would directly impact the place we call home every Sunday. It also helped us demonstrate to our elementary-aged kids that although exhausted and sweaty, we had to persevere and complete our tasks. We were all able to look back with pride at the job we did during blitz.”

“Mission week is a great opportunity to give back to our community regardless of skill or ability,” said Scott Semerod, who too off from work to give back during mission week. “A small act can make the largest of difference. This year I was honored to go to BES (Bethlehem Emergency Shelter) to build a stand-alone shelving unit that would hold individuals’ personal belongings. Often these items are all the person has which is what they can carry.”

“We had the opportunity to truly feel like we were helping our neighbors,” said Glenn Burleigh, who volunteered with his wife and son. “Instead of saying ‘Let me know if I can help,’ we were saying ‘I am here to help; show me what you need.’  We provided some much-needed landscaping work, did some painting, and other spruce up work for people who could not do it themselves.  It felt really good.  We also built a Blessing Box, and did some work at the local homeless shelter. It was a tiring week but incredibly rewarding!”

Heidi Landis, Epworth’s Lay Leader and a teacher, worked with her two sons. “My parents have always set the example of being charitable, whether that was donating to various organizations or volunteering,” she shared. “At Epworth, many people modeled mission work; but Mary Harris’s passion for mission left an impact on me.” (Mary Harris was a faithful servant of Epworth whose impact is still bearing fruit for the kingdom.)

“I wanted to share that idea of helping others with my children,” added Landis. “My sons and I have participated in several mission trips out of state and have worked on projects within our community. I love having that time to watch them live out and grow in their faith.” 

Heidi’s older son, Zane, volunteered during mission week while home from college. His younger brother Max, who labored patiently on just about every project, says mission work gives him “the fulfillment of doing God’s work and seeing how it impacts the people we are working for.”

Anne Sottile, a 46-year member who supports mission with her gifts, has always seen her church as a family. Her dear friend Mary Harris got her active in mission work.  And while she is physically limited in her activities now, she was present throughout Mission Blitz Week, helping to prepare meals for the shelter and working on Christmas cards for the prison ministry.

“It is such a joy and privilege to serve alongside these people,” said Pastor Patton-Semerod. “Epworth is such a generous church with warm hearts for mission.  Every day of mission blitz week I was especially struck by the inter-generational ministry that was happening. A mom serving alongside her son home from college. A mother and adult daughter working together. Couples packing UMCOR hygiene kits together. Church elders working alongside members of our youth group.  And parents and grandparents modeling for their young children and grandchildren what it looks like to serve. 

“I give thanks to God for the new relationships that were built or strengthened both within the congregation and with our mission partners. It was especially meaningful to serve alongside my 7-year-old son Luke, who was so eager to help. He kept asking, ‘What can I do now to help?’  His passion to serve was contagious, and I will cherish that memory of serving together with him.”