By Alton Hipps
On March 10, 2020, I committed to a year of service through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS), working for the workcamp ministry of the Church of the Brethren as an assistant coordinator. I could not have imagined all the things that would change in the next year and a half. When July rolled around, I headed to Elgin, Ill., to start my service, thankful that–despite the COVID-19 pandemic–at least one thing I planned would still be happening.
As our team developed a theme for the summer, we landed on “Step Out: Seeking New Paths,” based on Isiah 43:19. The verse and theme seemed apt for the new trials, questions, and stumblings in a world we thought we knew. We realized, as planning for the summer began in earnest, that we would need to plan for many potential situations to run a program in 2021. This pushed us to think beyond the typical, and we created tiered program options with various levels of travel and group-to-group interactions.
During our flurry of fall changes, we took the opportunity to introduce the workcamp ministry’s new name, Faith Outreach Expeditions or FaithX for short. As the year moved along, we created COVID-19 guidelines and opened all FaithX experiences to anyone who had completed sixth grade. We continued to adjust our summer plans and, in January, felt it was necessary to stop planning for our most ambitious tier, Tier 4. The remaining three tiers did not include housing, which meant that groups were much closer to their service sites. So we worked to plan different types of service for each FaithX experience at a variety of local locations.
Over the summer, FaithX participants were able to serve at their local homeless shelters, food pantries, and clothing distribution centers helping their neighbors directly and tangibly. Participants also worked in community gardens growing food for people in need, and at their local parks, nature centers, and summer camps helping steward our special spaces. While the excitement of travel was off the table this year, local service made clear the connection between each individual and their own community. Participants were able to see the needs they were often previously blind to in their own backyards.
The connections made between congregations and local service opportunities during these FaithX experiences allowed congregations to continue to serve throughout the year, something that every group expressed intent to do going forward. A local setting also connected participants with other congregations across town or across the county in a new and shared experience. Youth who went to the same or neighboring schools were able to connect on a unique and spiritual level, and adults were able to grow relationships with people who also cared deeply for their community and wanted to help.
Having to rethink almost every aspect of a well-established program came with a host of challenges that required us to look hard for the sprouts of new growth. But looking back, we were able to find a new path for FaithX with its own deep, rich rewards.
–– Alton Hipps served along with Chad Whitzel as the two assistant coordinators for FaithX this summer.
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