Car show, animal blessing show ministry in a rural church

By the Rev. Jamie McDowell

WESTMINSTER—Ministry: What is it, and what does it look like? 

This is a question often posed to first-year seminary students as they attempt to figure out how to be the hands and feet of Christ. We often hear many different answers, such as feeding the homeless, visiting the sick or some other such noble answer. 

For Hopewell United Methodist Church, the answer was just a little bit different on Oct. 1. The answer that day was ministry as a car show.

Just that week, Hurricane Ian was bearing down on the East Coast. The idea of canceling the fifth annual car show was already being considered by Tuesday morning. Pastor Jamie was not ready to call it off just yet. As the week went by, several people stopped into the store Jamie works at and mentioned how much they looked forward to this show every year. This was a surprise as the show is held out in the country and is relatively small compared to many of the car shows. As Thursday rolled around, the administration chair, Jackie Ballard, sent a text wanting to know if she should go pick up hot dog buns for the show.

The word was go: We are on, rain or shine. 

When Saturday morning came, there was no rain in sight. The storms had moved further east, and it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. The show was scheduled from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. The first car pulled in about 9 a.m. Over the next hour, more than 20 classic cars would come rolling in to fill the parking lot. It was a great day with music from the 1950s to the 1970s playing across the church’s sound system and reaching out into the farming community. Throughout the day, kids ran and played, adults talked and everyone enjoyed good music, hot dogs and Moon Pies. This was ministry.

People who only go to one show a year joined with others who travel the country attending shows, all brought together in this small rural church parking lot. Church member Ronnie Sheriff won the trophy for Best In Show with his 1938 Plymouth Coup. 

All of this was fantastic to see for Pastor Jamie and the congregation, but the best was yet to come. You see, Stan and Esther Summerfield came that day. They attend the car show every year. About the first year they came, Hopewell held a Blessing of the Animals service the next day. They came back for that service and brought their baby, a beautiful Yorkie.

This year they had a new puppy, Nova. When they pulled in, Esther stopped Pastor Jamie and asked when the blessing service would be this year. It was important to her for Nova to be blessed. However, a Blessing of the Animals service had not yet been planned for this year. 

As the show wound down, after the trophies were handed out and the cars were starting to leave, Pastor Jamie, Stan, Esther, Nova and a small group of members and visitors made their way to the sanctuary. There, an impromptu service was held. Several different scriptures were read to remind those gathered of the importance of all creation to God. Pastor Jamie lovingly took Nova and cradled her in his arms as he asked for God’s blessing on her life, and the life of her family. 

It was a great—no, it was a blessed—day.

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