Making a difference minute-by-minute

Helping to build Habitat for Humanity houses is one way people met the challenge of "90 minutes of community service in 90 days."

Buchanan, Mich.

They cooked turkeys for the homeless, mentored schoolchildren, made teddy bears for the sick, sat with the dying, sewed lap robes, gathered clothing, built houses, made crafts, collected toys, wrapped presents and more.

They recycled, baked, knitted. They served, mentored and volunteered. From helping to build Habitat for Humanity houses to writing letters to the troops, from filling food pantries to flood buckets, a small Buchanan, Mich., congregation has tallied up minutes of giving that equal many days of making a difference.

They call it “90 in 90” – and they’ve asked everyone in their 200-member church to give 90 minutes of community service in 90 days. It’s not a new idea – Pastor Rob McPherson admits he borrowed it from another church – but it’s a good idea worth replicating.

“They” are the congregation of First United Methodist Church, where a team of 100 or so members accepted their pastor’s challenge to walk the talk. Not surprisingly, the church believes its calling is to be the “eyes, heart and hands of God.”

“This project has reminded me that people want their faith to be active. They want to live out their beliefs,” said McPherson.

Corbin Detget works on a Habitat for Humanity house.

“A woman came to me and said she had always wanted to work in a food pantry, but never had the courage to make it happen,” McPherson said. “This time she was willing to take time off work and do something she’s always felt called to do.”

Behind every good idea in the church are hardworking laypersons willing to translate intention into action. At First United Methodist, one of the coordinators is Martha Shreve, a self-described “failure at retirement.”

“There are many, many ways of going beyond the four walls of the church,” said Shreve. “Too often, we take care of our own, but get so involved in our own congregation that we forget about taking Christ’s message to the world.”

The project took a couple of months of planning, which started in July and August. The congregation received the challenge in September. The clock started ticking in October. By the end of December, items on everyone’s to-do list should be crossed off.

Shreve knows to the minute what members of the congregation have been up to. She keeps an Excel spreadsheet with a minute-by-minute accounting of who is doing what, when and where.

“Nobody has stopped at just 90 minutes of service,” she said. “People have gone above and beyond by many, many hours.

“It’s one of those renewing experiences when we witness God’s hand in the world,” Shreve said. “When you go out and there’s someone in need and you can help alleviate that need, it does wonderful things in you too.”

Ben Sadler agrees. A member of First United Methodist for more than 51 years, the former sales consultant often took a crew of his own to cook turkeys for a local rescue mission. This Thanksgiving, he was joined at the overnight “cook-in” by several “90 in 90” participants who provided evening appetizers of chili, goulash and baked beans for the homeless men and women who showed up early to watch the volunteers roast 61 turkeys in Sadler’s 20-foot cooker.

“I get choked up when I talk about it,” Sadler said. “You can watch stories like this on television or read about ways people help each other in the paper, but you have no idea what giving is about until you experience something like this.”

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