At Christmas, they feed the down & out
SPRING VALLEY, Calif. (BP) -- Christmas at New Seasons Church caps a time of giving so rich that pastor A.B. Vines finds it difficult to convince lenders to fund a much-needed building project.
A lender recently told the Southern Baptist church -- which gives some 30 percent of its offerings to outreach -- that the bank couldn't extend a building project loan if the church continued such a practice.
"Outreach doesn't get a big return in business," Vines said, "but for us it's the only return we have. We invest in the community because we believe that's what the Lord wants us to do."
Vines estimates the church will give $240,000 of this year's $800,000 budget to outreach, and the church would like to expand its facilities to reach more in need.
"I've got to find me a new lender now," the pastor said. "God will bless us with a lender."
New Seasons plans to expand its main campus in Spring Valley, Calif., the hub of its outreach. The church has satellite locations in West Sacramento and Paradise Valley.
Christmas at New Seasons finds Angela Kretschmar and her staff busy putting extra holiday touches on the church's weekly hot lunches and meals on wheels and incorporating Christmas gifts into the offerings of its daily food bank. Kretschmar is executive director of Heaven's Windows, New Seasons' nonprofit community outreach arm operating the church's numerous social service ministries.
"All these are doors to the church. Our church is right in the middle of a very poor area," Kretschmar said. "We're just known as the church. [Those in need] have developed a sense of family there."
The homeless and dispossessed will be welcomed into the church's 100-seat fellowship hall Dec. 21 where they will be seated and served a hot meal of turkey, ham, pies and other traditional trimmings. A Christmas sermon, holiday music and a take-home bag of groceries and gifts will complete the event.
"When they walk through the doors, they are our guests, our honored guests," Kretschmar said. "We make that a really, really special hot meal event. We just take what we normally do and we just kick it up a notch and make it Christmas. They walk out with a smile."
Earlier that day, the Heaven on Wheels crew will take prepared meals, groceries and gifts to the 35 elderly and handicapped served by the weekly meals program.
"It's not the meal," Kretschmar said. "We're sending them a plate of love."
Heaven's Windows' food pantry, open five days a week in cooperation with the San Diego Food Bank, will add Christmas gifts to its distribution, giving out any donations received. Last year, Kretschmar said, the church received 400 toys and distributed them through the food bank.
"I know we'll do the same thing" this year, she said.
Vines described the church as a hospital, a light on a hill and a little bit of heaven on earth.
"We're just committed to helping those in need," he said. "God does a lot with a little. A lot of people told us we couldn't do it."
Vines leads the congregation in a spirit augmented by the 35 community groups that have linked with Heaven's Windows to distribute aid. For instance, Heaven's Windows last year distributed about $100,000 in rent vouchers alone.
"The community agencies trust us with their finances," Vines said. "[The church members] see where the money goes. I'm not on any checks. I'm not driving a Bentley."
New Seasons gave $40,000 to its annual Thanksgiving Block Party this year to accompany donations from the community. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, the church distributed hot meals, fresh meat and vegetables, nonperishable groceries, toys and clothing to 5,500 individuals encompassing 2,060 families, Vines said.
"Right now there's no one who is exempt from the hurt. We've had people come from our wealthiest parts of town to get food," Vines said. "It's just really hard. We're being hit from everywhere."
Vines said 160 people accepted Christ as their Savior during the block party.
"We make our community outreach a very important part of our church budget," he said. The church still finds money to give to the Cooperative Program, ranking among the top 40 givers among the California Southern Baptist Convention's 2,100 congregations.
"We do the whole thing," Vines said. "I empower the people to do what they have to do. I walk around and I encourage everybody."
Vines' goal is to reach the top 25 in the state convention in Cooperative Program giving and eventually the top 10.
The result of the 2005 merger of Bancroft Baptist Church and Highland Park Baptist Church, New Seasons is about 55 percent African American, with several ethnicities comprising the remaining membership. God has faithfully grown the church from 100 members shortly after the merger to 1,010 today, Vines said.
"If you do what God says in His Word," Vines said, "He'll take care of you."
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer in New Orleans. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).