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By Rev. Cindy Hickman*
Reaching out to the local community is difficult. We all know that we should be doing it, but actually finding a way to bridge the gap between the church and the community is not easy. One way we discovered at Bloomfield-Des Moines UMC is Laundry of Love. We learned a lot of lessons along the way.
Several years ago a new person attended our church and she suggested that we visit area laundromats on Saturday mornings and take quarters and hospitality to those doing their laundry. This was not an original idea. She had heard of another church doing it. She wanted to give it a try. She was willing to lead us.
Lesson #1: be a permission-giving church. When people come with good ideas of service and ministry and want to carry them out, let them.
We did some research on local laundromats. We were concerned that they would find us intrusive. Once we explained what we planned to do: help people carry their laundry in and out, offer quarters to pay for laundry (it costs about $5 to do a load of laundry; we typically spend $60 on a Saturday and lots of people decline the offer of quarters “No thanks, save that for someone who needs it more than me.”) and bring some hospitality sometimes in the form of cookies or children’s activities, the laundromats were on board.
Lesson #2: Give some thought to what you are doing. What is the best way to convey the love of Christ?
So one Saturday morning we headed to our first Laundromat. There were three of us. The woman who had suggested this was in the lead. In the middle of the parking lot at the first Laundromat she stopped and turned to the group and said that she had never really done this and she was a little nervous. So we prayed.
Lesson #3: Cover whatever you are doing in prayer.
In we went to the Laundromat, awkward, ready to launch into some stammering pitch about what the heck we were doing. The stammering pitch eventually simply became “We’re from Bloomfield United Methodist Church and we just wanted to do something nice today. Need help?” And we offered coins and help.
Lesson #4: Keep it simple.
I remember that first Laundromat visit. A very nice man was doing his laundry. He visited with us and let us help him fold laundry and through him we gained some courage for what we were doing.
Lesson #5: Watch for the good people God will put in your path.
That was all about three years ago. Since then a team of people have gone to the laundromats on the last Saturday of the month most months. Lots of people have supported this by contributing quarters.
Lesson #6: Not everyone is suited to every ministry.
Some people would never in a million years be comfortable doing this. Others love it. One new person has joined the church as a result of this, and that person leads this ministry because she knows what it meant to her. We don’t all have to agree or walk in lock step.
The greatest change that has occurred is in us. We have discovered more about what separates us from the world. The woman who started this once commented that isn’t is curious that what can separate us from one another is a washing machine.
Lesson #7: when you set out to transform the world, be prepared to be part of that transformation.
This Saturday is Laundry of Love Saturday. Stop now and say a prayer for those who will be washing their clothes on Saturday. Pray that we all find something more as we meet them at the Laundromat.
*Rev. Cindy Hickman is pastor of Bloomfield-Des Moines UMC