Since 1996, the Shell Lake's Full Gospel Church has, like many other churches nationwide, held a salute to Christmas with extraordinary music and the Christmas message a Sunday or two before Christmas.
Something happened though in 2012 that changed their focus.
This church had already been reaching out to the community in quiet ways; like providing feminine products for the local high school girls and donating laundry soap and clothes in various sizes to accommodate students who need to be clean for one reason or another.
During the church's usual staff meeting preparing for the Christmas program, one of the women who worked at the school mentioned the need of many of the families for personal products like shampoo, laundry soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Even toilet paper, diapers and bar soap.
The focus quickly turned to reaching out to the community in practical ways. The church already has an amazing Mission's Conference each fall honoring the large number of missionaries they support, and now it was time to do a bit of local mission work themselves.
The theme of their annual concert had always been Christmas in the Country, with music, food and sleigh rides in the snow. Now the afternoon is without sleigh rides and the money they used for the rides is spent on filling the church with all sorts of products and gifts that are absolutely free to their visitors, along with generous donations from church members.
This Sunday, December 9, is packed with activities starting with the first Christmas program at 9a.
As soon as the singing and the message are over, the entire church goes into action, tearing down the chairs to be stored elsewhere for several hours, and others fill the sanctuary with the main “shops” where everything is new or gently used and free.
The Country Store is where all the personal care products are, including socks and underwear.
The Toy Store is filled to the brim with gifts suitable for newborns through teens and parents or caregivers can not only pick out a gift for each child but can wrap it before they leave.
The Gift Shop lets the kids shop for their parents or guardians choosing things like slippers and jewelry, and many other choices. The kids can wrap the gifts themselves or help is available.
There's a Coat Shop for the entire family that offers, warm winter coats, boots, hats, gloves and mittens, and a huge craft area dominates the center of the sanctuary with crafts for kids and adults.
There is a lunch of hot ham and cheese sandwiches, homemade soup and dessert at noon, the same lunch the church volunteers ate earlier and from noon until 1:30p there are giveaways every fifteen minutes that might be a gas card or a box off Louie's fine meats.
The Hot Chocolate Bar is near the Family Photo Booth that's manned by a professional photographer.
Games, activities and a Live Nativity in the sanctuary top off the excitement and at 1:30p, the chairs are returned to the sanctuary, and the air is filled with music and pageantry as only Full Gospel can do it.
It's a day that brings in several hundred visitors to a spectacular event put on by several hundred volunteers. These willing volunteers are the people who build the "stores" to the ones who make the soup or clean up afterward, everyone pitches in wherever they're needed.
After all the hard, and rewarding work of Christmas, this congregation of 300 will begin 2019 looking for other community programs they can implement to demonstrate again how much God loves us, every one of us.
For more information, go to their website, Full Gospel Church.
About The Author
Diane is a features writer for DrydenWire.com. She started her fifteen-year career as a features writer for the Washburn County Register and has written for assorted newspapers and national magazines. She has also just released the third novel in her Chicago series of books – Scott Free in Chinatown. You can visit Diane's website at www.dianedryden.com or her facebook page at facebook.com/authordianedryden.