Regional youth from two different denominations came to Dunkirk recently for the same purpose: to benefit the Chautauqua County Rural Ministry and its patrons.
While on separate missions, the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York's Senior High Conference and youth from the Orchard Park Presbyterian Church each took time from their summer schedules to volunteer in a variety of ways at the rural ministry, from construction and renovation to manning the counters.
The Senior High Conference, a camp-like experience held annually since 1933, contains Episcopalian youth from more than a dozen churches throughout the seven western counties of New York. They arrived at the rural ministry with the day-long task of converting a garage area into a place that can accept items donated to the organization.
OBSERVER Photo by Tim Latshaw
Youth from the Orchard Park Presbyterian Church recently spent a week in Dunkirk helping at the Chautauqua County Rural Ministry by helping to renovate rooms and serving at the thrift store and Friendly Kitchen.
"We came into the room about two hours ago and you could barely move in here," said Jay Phillippi, Youth Missioner for the Senior High Conference.
"It was basically sort of a 'graveyard area' where things just ended up. So our task has been to clear the room and then paint the room, and then eventually this will be turned into an inventory room."
The bishop of the Episcopal diocese, J. Michael Garrison, also lent a hand at the rural ministry, although his robes and collar had been replaced with more work-ready clothes. And for Giselle Jackman, a counselor with the Senior High Conference, the work came with a sense of nostalgia: she recalled having volunteered to pain the front of the rural ministry building about 15 years ago as part of the Episcopalian group Churches in Action.
The group of 30 from Orchard Park Presbyterian Church included 24 high-schoolers and one college student who returned from the west coast for the occasion. They spent a full week in Dunkirk, staying at the First United Presbyterian Church and contracting showers and meals through the middle school and Demetri's restaurant, respectively.
The group served the rural ministry in number of capacities. Their work included cleaning out and painting the warehouse, working in the thrift store and Friendly Kitchen, painting the second and third floor rooms of the Coburn Block living spaces and tending to the community garden.
According to leader Linda Babcock, a previous service trip to another location had to be canceled. However, a group of four from the North Tonawanda Presbyterian Church, directed by the Rev. Stuart Buisch, came to Chautauqua County Rural Ministry the previous week to construct an office and saw the need for more help to be present.
"As the days got closer to the event another Presbyterian Church, Orchard Park Presbyterian Church, contacted me," the Rev. Buisch said. "They had a commitment in another setting that fell through. Linda Babcock, their staff person for Youth and Mission ministries, contacted me and made contacts in Dunkirk as well, and thus we went from a group of four to a group of 34."
For both denominational groups, the reasons for volunteering were similar: to see more of what it is like to be in need and the importance of offering support as emphasized in biblical teachings.
"The church has an almost 30-year history of taking high school-aged students to be the hands and feet of Christ by putting their faith in action," Babcock said.
"From the earliest days of the church, serving those who are less well off than we are is an essential part not only of Christianity but of most of the major religions," Phillippi said.
Kathleen Peterson, executive director for the rural ministry, said that financial support is received from both the Presbyterian and Episcopalian denominations, but that personal work and support is an especial gift to the organization.
"It's been 10 years since we've had groups of this size. ... It's just been such a blessing to get so much done," she said.