|Church takes steps to help poor with Barefoot Sunday|
Nearly 300 pairs of shoes are stacked near
the altar at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in New Windsor, Md. The
June 7 collection was part of Barefoot Sunday, aimed at collecting
shoes for those in need. UMNS photos by Heidi Robinson.
By Heidi Robinson*
July 15, 2009 | NEW WINDSOR, Md. (UMNS)
Chimes peal from the bell tower of the 166-year-old steeple at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on a warm, summer morning.
Dawn Rosenberg and her 3-year-old daughter, Maylin, donated their shoes.
While the call to worship may be the same as every other Sunday, the
progression into the church, about an hour from the nation’s capital,
is surely unusual.
Two women in long summer dresses stroll up the walkway, but they
have no summer sandals protecting their toes from the concrete. The
women, like many other folks making their way to the sanctuary, are
“In America, we throw away enough every year to put footwear on the
people around the world who don’t even have one pair,” Jacque Wilhelm
exclaims. “We’re excited to share today.”
Wilhelm, chairperson for Missions and Nurture Team at St. Paul’s,
carries a bag of shoes, some new and some gently used. Her two
little boys, Pierce and Ian, carefully clutch children’s shoes that
they will give.
“It’s Barefoot Sunday!” says Pierce, sporting a homemade T-shirt decorated for the occasion with his own footprints.
This special day of worship is part of a June 7 nationwide event in partnership with Soles 4 Souls,
a Nashville, Tenn.,-based organization that collects and distributes
shoes to some of the 300 million people worldwide who do not have even
one pair to call their own. St. Paul’s is one of several United
Methodist congregations that participated.
“Most people are excited about what we are doing today, and others
it makes uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s OK because it helps us
too,” says Pastor Helen Armiger. She is wearing her traditional robes
but is barefoot.
“I’ve been in countries where people have no choice but to go
barefoot,” she says. “Children have scars on their feet; they are
vulnerable to disease and infection, and we can help them.”
A tradition in some countries
As the music begins, worshippers file into the sanctuary. About half
are wearing shoes, and almost all are carrying shoes to share.
Travis Perryman (left), 6, prays with his family.
“I brought two pairs of shoes to give away,” says 76-year-old Jean Fitschen.
A couple of people relish the novelty of being barefoot in church.
“I’d do this every week!” says Sunday school teacher Missy Marlin, wiggling her bare toes.
Armiger points out that in some cultures and even historically, being barefoot in church is a tradition.
“In India, people remove their shoes before they receive communion,” Armiger explains.
Before communion begins, parishioners are invited to lay their shoes
before the altar. Lines of people fill the aisles, while pumps,
boots and tennis shoes begin to pile up at the front of the church.
“Here is one more pair,” says 67-year-old Joanne
Hillary. “Nope, wait, I have a couple of others in here.” From the
depths of her handbag she pulls another pair, adding a total of nine
pairs of shoes to the stack.
“Wait, here are the pair I’m wearing,” she says. She removes the shoes from her feet and walks back to her pew in her stockings.
One shoe at a time
“It’s liberating,” Hillary says. “I don’t care if people see me
walking out of church in my stocking feet. I will know that I am
helping change someone else’s life today.”
In all, almost 300 pairs of shoes will fill boxes to be given away on
four continents. The congregation also collected monetary donations to
defray shipping costs.
“Every kid loves being barefoot, but especially in church!” says 15-year-old Reba Wolfe.
“I know this is better for the community and the world,” she says. “We’re helping people one shoe at a time.”
*Robinson is a freelance producer based in Winston-Salem, N.C.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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