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Showing real care by the bucketful

Two local churches participate in the national Faith in Action movement.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG- It might seem like heresy to some: Cancel worship services and shutter the church come Sunday.

That's exactly what hundreds of churches around the country have been doing, among them Cornerstone Bible Church and BridgePoint Church in St. Petersburg.

The unorthodox decision was spurred by a national campaign urging Christians to demonstrate Jesus' love outside their church walls.

Cornerstone Bible and BridgePoint each called off a Sunday service and sent members into neighborhoods to help the sick, feed the hungry, comfort the lonely and perform other good works.

"The whole idea was to move beyond just talking about our faith and putting our faith into action," said Pastor Tim Whipple of BridgePoint Church, a young congregation that holds Sunday services at St. Petersburg High School.

Christina Manley, 36, a first lieutenant with the Florida Army National Guard, 53rd Infantry Brigade, was one of the beneficiaries of Cornerstone Bible Church's efforts.

"They're wonderful," she said as church members painted her house near Tyrone Square Mall in colors named Quiver Tan and Universal Khaki.

When Cornerstone Bible Church learned that Manley, who recently returned from Iraq, was looking for someone to paint her home, the congregation offered its services. The church specifically wanted to include a member of the military in its outreach efforts, the Rev. Bill Martin said.

Three national organizations are behind the national effort, named Faith in Action. This year, Christian publisher Zondervan, Outreach Inc., a church communication firm, and World Vision, a Christian organization known for its humanitarian work, got together to create the project designed to mobilize congregations to serve the community.

The program runs for a month and consists of weekly sermons, small-group discussions and daily devotions. The campaign culminates with a Faith in Action Sunday, when church services are canceled.

The Sunday community outreach is not designed to be a token effort, but to become "part of the DNA" of participating congregations, said Lynne Marian, vice president of communications for Outreach Inc.

Martin of Cornerstone Bible Church said: "It just seemed to fit our mission. It's really important for us to reach into the community."

On Oct. 28, the church canceled its Sunday morning service. Members participated in a children's fair at Bethel Mission in Wimauma; did chores at the St. Petersburg Women's Club; led a worship service at Carrington Place, a convalescent home on Roosevelt Boulevard; painted at Resurrection House; and prepared a meal at the Ronald McDonald East House in St. Petersburg.

A member of First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg and two from Riviera United Methodist joined them at the National Guard soldier's house. A contractor, Just Gorgeous Homes, and Masterpiece Painting funded the project.

"Everybody came back raving about what had happened," Martin said of the service projects.

"Then on Sunday night, we met at the St. Petersburg Women's Club, where we worship. We showed a video that one of our teenagers had put together. We had lots of testimonies, lots of tears."

BridgePoint Church held a celebration and rally the night before its "Gone Servin' Day." That Sunday, members wore T-shirts that said in large print, "Don't go to church." In smaller type were the words, "Be the Church."

"It really created a lot of conversation," Pastor Whipple said.

The congregation prepared breakfast and lunch at both Ronald McDonald houses in St. Petersburg, served meals at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic's Women's Shelter and Beacon House, and sorted clothes and organized a food pantry at ASAP, an agency that helps the homeless. Members also picked up trash at Fort De Soto, worked at Suncoast Haven of Rest in Pinellas Park, made get-well cards for patients at All Children's Hospital and cleaned flower beds at St. Petersburg High School, where the congregation worships.

Whipple said BridgePoint plans additional Gone Servin' projects, including preparing Thanksgiving baskets for the poor.

"We want to make an impact in the community and meet people's needs," he said.

Cornerstone Bible Church also plans to continue its outreach ministry.

"The whole point is, don't let this be a one-shot deal," its pastor said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 727 892-2283.