Veteran Christmas card project one way small church shows big heart for missions

By Laura Camby McCaskill

LEXINGTON—One small church is proving it can affect the community in a huge way—by taking missions to another level.

Bethel, Peachtree Rock, United Methodist Church has taken missions to heart and run with it. The congregation at Bethel is involved in many mission projects—at least 17!—and this Christmas, local veterans are feeling Bethel’s Christian love.

Every year, Bethel sends Christmas cards to veterans in the area. This mission was born with the help of Gloria Brawn and Jean Lucas. Brawn and Lucas both lost husbands who were veterans, and in 2014 they began writing cards to other veterans as a way to show Christmas greetings and support.

“We wanted to let them know they haven’t been forgotten,” Lucas said.

The church’s Women of God group meets yearly to fill out the Christmas cards, which are sent to veterans at the Veterans Affairs center in Columbia. Instead of just signing her name on the cards, each woman writes a note of encouragement or love.

“It was received very well by the veterans at the hospital,” Brawn said.

The number of cards they sent started small, but it grew to 365 cards in 2017 and even more in 2018.

“We just thought we should do something,” Lucas said.

Around the same time the veteran cards mission started, a widows’ group was formed at the church. Now they meet monthly for support and encouragement, and they also involve others in their missions. The widows help with the Christmas cards, and they also place wreaths on graves at the national cemetery.

As another way to help, during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season the congregation comes together to collect food boxes for families. Each box is ordered from Harvest Hope and comes with a complete meal, ranging from turkey to ham and all the sides. The congregation raises money to buy the boxes at $15 each and sends them to families in need. The congregation sent out 20 boxes for Christmas in 2018.

Another mission they do is boxes for deployed soldiers. When someone connected to the church is deployed at Christmas, Bethel members prepare a box of non-perishable goodies to send to them.

“Missions is the lifeblood of the church. If we are not reaching out to others, we become inward-focused,” said former pastor the Rev. Kathryn Scarborough, who still attends the church.

“There’s really so much (this church does) for a small community and small church. For (members) to do as much as they’re doing, it’s really a blessing,” Brawn said. “I just really feel that it is a very dedicated congregation for the area they are (in) and the size of the church. They’re very caring people.”

During the holiday season, the congregation has a mission tree that collects mittens, knit hats, scarves and fleece blankets. They collect items during the holiday season and into January.

Another mission, Project Warm, collects new and used coats that are then given to the homeless ministry in Columbia run by Jeff Snow and to the children at Fort Pine Elementary. In 2017, the church collected nearly 100 coats.

In another partnership with the elementary school, Bethel is a part of the Backpack Faith mission. For eight years, the church has helped 50 students weekly with supplies, food and more.

“Everything that Bethel does is very meaningful to the congregation,” Brawn said, noting church leaders have a “wonderful way of interjecting the feeling of the holidays and the missions into each task.”

Scarborough said even though Bethel is small, its members can still do something big in the world.

“I joined in 2005, (and we) had 12 people and (they were) thinking about closing the church,” Scarborough said. “The growth has been fueled by mission outreach to the community. That’s why I say it is the lifeblood of the church. A lot of churches think they can’t do anything because they’re so small, but oftentimes it is the small church that is maybe the most active sometimes.”

She said it is so important to connect with others through mission outreach no matter the church size.

Beyond the holiday season, Bethel remains involved with missions. Active mission projects include Prayer Bears, United Methodist Volunteers in Missions, Souper Bowl of Caring, health kits for the community and for people in Haiti, pillowcase dresses for women in Haiti, help with Lexington Interfaith Community Services, the God’s People Serving ministry, a prayer shawl ministry, a red scarf project for foster kids, and many more.

To learn more about the many missions at Bethel: 803-755-0585.

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