Updated: Oct 9, 2019
By Rev. Leslie Stewart
This weekend we got to see our BLESS model in action at the Plano Balloon Festival. The annual event draws 60,000 people over a 3-day weekend with food, live music, and, of course, hot air balloons.
We saw this as a perfect opportunity to meet people where they are with our message, so Resurrection sponsored a booth and an on-site service project.
Here’s how we implemented the BLESS approach with this community event.
Being one among them
To bring the good news, first you have to be among them.
Instead of viewing yourself as bringing something from the outside, you need to be engaged in the community you are trying to serve.
I’ve had the blessing of serving as Chaplain to the Balloon Pilots for three years now, and I’ve become the ad hoc Chaplain for the festival. The staff and the vendors recognized me as soon as we pulled our trucks in to set up our booths.
“Rev. Leslie is here!”
One of the Balloon Fest employees asked for a prayer and a blessing, and he wanted me to
sprinkle them with holy water. So I blessed the water bottle I had brought with me and did just that.
They view me as theirs – their priest – because I am.
Listen to the needs
We try to tap into the cares and concerns of our community.
Ten percent of the population of Plano are veterans, and with 31 military bases, Texas has the second-largest population of veterans in the U.S. Most people here have either deployed at some time, or they know or love someone who has.
That’s how we chose our walk-through service project. We invited festival attendees to assemble care packages for deployed soldiers.
There is something unifying about addressing our common human need to eat. Our care kits included snacks for soldiers who would receive these boxes by Thanksgiving. That was something everyone could relate to.
Serving our community
Everyone who came by our booth was invited to participate in our service project.
We also served, and invited into service, our ministry partner, Airborne Angel Cadets of Texas. They are a Dallas-based non-profit organization that sends care packages to deployed soldiers.
We helped raise awareness of their cause by having representatives from their organization at our booth providing information. And, of course, we served the soldiers by providing the care packages.
Sharing the Good News to the world
The good news is that God is very close to you, and you can very easily be a part of God’s work in the world.
Our church members played host to this experience: inviting people in, walking them through and thanking them for helping as they explained the impact of this good act.
We invited them to stay and write a letter or draw a picture for a soldier. As a thank you, we gave all participants a gift (which was branded with our logo and website).
We heard so many people thank US! They appreciated the experience of being allowed to participate, and they left feeling good knowing they made a positive impact on the world.
Making an impact
By the time Sunday rolled around, we had nearly 3,000 people who engaged at our booth!
We provided care packages for soldiers and blessed Airborne Angel Cadets by drawing attention to their mission and by the donations some people chose to make at the tent.
All of that was under the Resurrection Episcopal Church tent and our Warrior Church Service.
Even if people didn’t come through our tent, festival goers walked by our booth and saw our logo. They saw a line of people waiting to walk through our service project, and the chairs filled with people writing letters to soldiers.
We were a sign of God’s work in the world.
For those who did walk through, we hope they felt curious about the kind of church who would be out serving in the community. We hope they would want to join a church that is missional and loving, a church that doesn’t just want to tell you information about Jesus, but wants to show you the kind of thing Jesus taught us to do: To bless, to include, to share, and to love.
Evangelism for all
The beautiful thing about this type of evangelism is that everyone could participate. The smallest children could walk through and put things in the box. Not only was it something families could do together, but it provided an opportunity for everyone at Resurrection to participate.
Our small but mighty crew of 20 volunteers had a gigantic impact! Any sized church can do this. And we didn’t all need to be trained evangelists.
The extroverts were comfortable standing outside the tent and inviting people in. The introverts were content to oversee the letter writing station and hand out supplies. Or, they could help restock the food items on the assembly tables.
There is a place for everyone on the team, and to me, that string of booths in the September heat of the Plano Balloon Festival looked a lot like the Kingdom of God, an ever expanding flow of love.
I had children hug me, thanking me for the opportunity to help.
There was a balloon pilot who thanked me for praying with him as fair chaplain two years ago. His cancer is now in remission.
Other balloon pilots were grateful to have spiritual support at this point in their journey across the U.S. during the festival season.
Our logistics team helped load the completed care packages into the Airborne Angel Cadets’ vehicle.
Helping others and sharing our faith is transformative -- for both the people we reach out to and ourselves. That’s why we, Resurrection Episcopal, a church plant in Plano, Texas, firmly believe in our mission: “Living Faith that Transforms Our World.”