Written by Linda Tessendorf of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Onaga, Kansas
with the Rev. Rachael Pryor
KO Conference Coordinator for 3 Great Loves
Setting out to serve their neighbors while also helping members take care of accumulated unneeded home items, members of First Congregational United Church of Christ embarked on what they thought was a simple, one-time fundraiser. It all began with a successful rummage sale in the spring of 1998. The community was so generous with donations of clothing and nearly anything you could mention that there was an abundance left, in spite of all that sold over the week-end sale. Many bags of clothing and other items continued to mysteriously find their way into the church basement entryway. Volunteers sorted, folded, and stacked the items all summer. By fall it was obvious another sale was in order.
The fall sale was also a success, with many items left over, and bags continued to appear in the stairway. It might have been easy to approach this situation as a problem; but the folks at First Congregational UCC saw something else: God opening a new door to mission for the church and the community. Members witnessed a transformation happening in the church basement, where unwanted, unneeded, and unused items were being converted into wanted, needed, and appreciated articles for many. Thus a new mission named the
Conversion Place was born.
“What comes in freely goes out freely” became the slogan for this new mission in a rural community where lower poverty rates and higher median home prices and incomes can overshadow the reality for local families with low incomes or financial emergencies. At the Conversion Place, every article is marked at a modest price… 50 cents for adult jeans and shirts, 25 cents for clothing from birth to size 10, etc.
The Conversion Place is open the second and fourth weeks of the month on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Every Thursday is a work day and open for walk-ins. Little capital outlay is involved and all work is done by volunteers. The income generated goes into the church’s account.
As a past minister said, “We have tried to be faithful to Jesus’s words from Matthew 25:36. ‘I was naked and you gave me clothing.’ God’s stamp of approval has been obvious in the Conversion Place.” It’s not just the clothes and household items that experience a “conversion” at First Congregational UCC. The church basement and the members who volunteer have also been transformed by God’s love as they’ve opened their doors and their hearts to this simple and dignified ministry of care for their wider community.