On a typical Sunday, Steven Wise’s routine after church usually involves coffee or doughnuts, maybe a get-together with friends.
“Not this!” the 45-year-old Shawnee resident said Sunday in midtown Kansas City, shovel in his hands, sweat soaking his back.
“Not in this heat,” said Hannah Bower, 27, who volunteered to work outdoors Sunday for hours, even as the temperature beneath an intense sun spiked toward 100 degrees.
It was certainly a novel way to celebrate a birthday.
Such was the case for about 250 to 300 members of 11 Lutheran churches on the Missouri and Kansas sides of the Kansas City area who — instead of eating birthday cake — opted to work for six hours caked in sweat and dirt and paint to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“In my view, not just the Lutheran church, but a lot of churches have been focused inward for years,” said Maryann Grace, a member of Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park. “There is a new horizon, if you will, of helping people not just by serving them a plate of food, but by looking them in the eyes and saying ‘We care.’”
That care on Sunday centered on volunteers in yellow T-shirts that read “God’s Work, Our Hands,” cleaning and doing repair work on two churches — St. Mark’s Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, a nearly 100-year-old church at 3800 Troost Ave., and Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church at 5001 Independence Ave. It also entailed projects in the neighborhoods that surround them.
Near the Troost church, that meant planting mums at the DeLaSalle Charter High School to greet returning students. Dozens of volunteers removed brush, and mulched and staked about 95 young apple, pear, peach, plum and nectarine trees in a community orchard between 33rd and 34th streets just east of Troost between Forest and Tracy avenues.
“It’s fantastic. It’s incredible,” said neighborhood resident Eddie Tapper, 46, a developer who is also president of the Center City Neighborhood Association.
Hours of work by 50 to 60 volunteers at the orchard, he said, would help the saplings survive the winter.
Many volunteers came from suburban Kansas churches such as Salem Lutheran in Lenexa and Holy Cross Lutheran and Atonement Lutheran, both in Overland Park.
Inside St. Mark’s, Kevin Voelker designed and helped build a platform to move the church’s altar closer to the people. Others moved pews. Kids and adults painted the church’s concrete steps and wrought iron.
In a tiny “pocket park,” 65-year-old Joyce Benedict of Salem Lutheran cleared brush while others repainted a concrete slab as a huge checkerboard for area kids.
“We’re just a bunch of hard-working Lutherans here celebrating our 25th anniversary,” said Benedict, who also volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. “Hey, I’m a farm girl from Nebraska. I’m used to hard work.”