Church takes worship outside its walls

Published 7:27 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2013

“A church with feet” – those words got my attention Sunday morning.

Instead of sitting inside for the service at my own church, I was on the job this past Sunday, interviewing people outdoors on an unseasonably cold, windy and somewhat overcast morning.

As I entered the tent-bedecked church grounds on Second Street North a little after 9 a.m. with camera and reporter’s notebook in hand, I found Brookhaven Assembly of God’s congregation hard at work, too.

And they seemed downright overjoyed by their labors.

On BFA Community Appreciation Crawfish Boil Sunday, the church goes outside its walls and into the community, First Assembly’s Pastor Jim Mannon explained to me as I arrived. The street fair-like outreach has been a fixture of the big green space on Second Street North between East Court and Congress Streets for years.

“Our worship is what’s going on around you,” Pastor Mannon said to me, explaining that the crawfish boil event would be the only “service” of the day for his church.

“We started 11 years ago when we broke ground on the new building,” Mannon said of the super-sized dinner on the grounds event. Initially, the picnic was just a church event, but then a few years ago, church members started inviting community members to come, and come they did.

While Mannon was anticipating 450 to 460 Sunday morning and thinking that was an ambitious prediction, given the chilly weather, the church winded up feeding a record 600 by the end of the event Sunday.

“We often think about worship as sitting in church and singing songs,” Mannon said. “So many times, the community sees the church as always wanting something from them. We want them to see us as giving to them.”

Across the wide expanse of lawn, church members were busy giving.

Carl and Debra Lambert were doing their part by cooking and tasting the vegetable boil, respectively. Carl was stirring the giant pot of corn and potatoes bubbling atop a gas flame as I walked up.

“He’ll say, come over and taste it,” Debra said, pausing from sampling a bright yellow ear of corn. “He likes seasoning,” she said with a smile.

To make sure he doesn’t go too far with the spices, Carl has Debra do a taste test. “If it gets by her, I know it’s just right,” he said, giving the pot a stir.

Gas jets also were firing up big kettles of water for bright orange crawfish. Overseeing the herculean work of cooking 600 pounds of crawdads were Jason Bland of Trinity Outdoors Disabled Adventures of Youngstown, La., and his colleagues.

Grills were heated up, and hamburgers and grilled chicken began coming off with production-line precision.

Giant jugs of lemonade and tea arrived, pulled on a wagon. Kids’ inflatables were pumped full of air and quickly became a magnet for children in the partitioned-off area adjacent to the tents.

Louisiana musician Jim Girard took the stage to crank out some Cajun/Zydeco sounds for the crowd, which steadily grew, despite the biting wind.

As the food tables grew heavy, the servers lined up behind them, Pastor Mannon said the blessing and the growing crowd made a beeline for the feast.

Which brings me back to the words that got my attention that morning and why I was working that Sunday in the first place.

BFA member Rachelle Hackney had contacted former Daily Leader Lifestyles Editor Tammie Brewer to let her know the church had been picked for a national documentary.

Tammie texted me Saturday night, and I called Rachelle. “They (the National Council of Assemblies of God) picked us for a documentary about average churches who are doing extraordinary things,” Rachelle said.

This weekend, Brookhaven First Assembly became the final church of five congregations nationwide to be filmed by a video crew from the National Council’s Springfield, Mo., headquarters.

The video documentary will be about “churches that are taking church beyond the four walls ? a church with feet,” video team member Randy Bacon told me as he paused from his camera work Sunday.

First Assembly has been putting those feet to use in the community for quite some time.

Rachel Eide is editor/general manager of The Daily Leader. Contact her at rachel.eide@dailyleader.com.