About 240 people showed up at Hillside Community Church on a recent Sunday but no one was planning to worship.
Members and attendees at the Bellwood church had another purpose in mind. They were there to help their neighbors.
Instead of being inspired by a sermon, they were motivated to change oil for 30 widows and single moms, put in a gate for a family with a special needs child and make good on a promise to paint a house.
(Courtesy photo)Men from Hillside Community Church, 508 Cambria St., Bellwood, change the oil in cars owned by single moms and widows during “Don’t Go to Church, Be the Church” day. On May 22, no services were held. Instead members of the church tackled various projects throughout the borough as a way to serve the community.
Others beautified the borough by picking up trash, landscaping the library and cleaning Main Street.
Senior Pastor Ken Beichler said it is the first time in the 90-year history of the church that services were cancelled to allow the congregation to serve outside its walls.
Beichler said a national campaign encourages congregations to do for others through its saying: "Don't Go to Church, Be the Church."
It was not the first time that Hillside reached out to the community, but it was the first time that the congregation was working on projects at the same time.
Even youths were involved. Children packed 125 shoe boxes with toys and supplies for Operation Christmas Child to be sent to children in need worldwide. Teens washed and detailed the 30 cars that were given oil changes.
Beichler said the church has two services and the project day allowed people to become acquainted who normally worship at different times on Sundays. People who don't fit into the mold of normal church service work, such as serving on the worship team or being a greeter, also had an opportunity to serve in nontraditional ways.
"People who do landscaping could come and serve and people who work on cars could come and serve," he said.
Much of the landscaping was done by a team of 12 who worked in the yard of the Bellwood-Antis Public Library. Those handy with a paint brush brightened up the press boxes and dugouts at the Bellwood Little League Field and bathrooms at the Bellwood-Antis High School Baseball Field.
Workers used their muscles to help two families pack up for a move, while some left the borough to chat with residents at Bellmeade Manor in Antis Township.
Others simply picked up trash.
Lauren and Jeremy Hillard of Altoona were among the workers who collectively picked up about 50 garbage bags of litter.
"It was fun," Lauren Hillard said. "It was nice to be outside.
While they were enjoying the sunshine, a team of women were inside the library, stamping cards that the Bellwood Library will sell as a fundraiser.
Overall, the church did 14 different projects, said Randy Zitterbart, associate pastor.
He said planning began several months in advance with the church spreading the word about the day and residents responding with needs.
The planning was important when it came to painting the Victorian home. Jonathan Watts, a contractor in the Harrisburg area for about 30 years, led the project.
Watts returned to Bellwood after recovering from an accident in which a 2-ton electric motor that he was hoisting onto a truck fell on him.
Watts said he was not expected to live after the accident let alone walk again.
He also suffered a heart attack earlier this year and was recovering from it when he attended a service at Hillside in early May and learned about the project.
Although the accident has left him with physical limitations, he believes he still had a purpose in life.
"God gave me life. What am I going to do with my life?" he asked. "Then came this project."
He said volunteers were able to complete the job, including scraping old paint and other prep work, in about 10 days.
"You should see the house," he said. "It's beautiful. Even professional painters have told us, 'you did a fabulous job.'"
In addition to helping others, Watts said the project helped him.
He said despite his disabilities, the project "gave me an opportunity to say to myself, 'I am worth something. I have something to give to my community."
Bob Fisher of Bellwood also had to do some planning and work in advance for his project. He and Zitterbart built a gate and installed it between a patio wall and house at the home of Aaron and Jennifer Miller.
The Millers' son, Logan, 9, was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare disease of the brain, after being hit by a truck in August. In December, Jennifer was in an accident that killed four people. She was the only survivor and has only been walking for about five weeks.
"It was a nice surprise [the gate]," said Jennifer. "I can't run after Logan like the aids can."
She explained that she has help on the days that her husband works.
Jennifer said the gate allows the family, including their daughter, to have picnics on the patio without her worrying about Logan wandering off.
"We can have family time," she said.
She did not know who built the gate until a few days after "Be the Church" day.
She said she was eating breakfast on her porch swing when Fisher, her former high school principal, came to the house to install strong screws in the gate.
"He's a great guy," she said.
Fisher said he likes to work with wood and use his expertise to help someone else.
He said if the church did more projects in the future, he would be more than pleased to participate.
"It is immensely rewarding to do things to help others and put Christianity into practice," he said.