For 21 years, the congregation of Bethel Lutheran Church in Winchester, Virginia has come together in late summer for Harvest Sunday. What started as a small gathering offering homemade goods and produce for sale has evolved into an annual tradition with sponsors and festival activities, something the congregation looks forward to all year long. And for 21 years, all the proceeds raised have been donated by Bethel Lutheran to Lutheran World Relief.
Two decades of helping
Julie Shanabrook, who has run the event since its inception in 2001, said she loves donating to LWR because she can go to the website and see what programs speak to her. “There is always an immediate need that LWR is addressing, and I can see what is happening and how our donation is helping.”
Bethel Lutheran has not missed a Harvest Sunday since it began, even socially distancing tables during the height of the COVID pandemic. It has evolved over the years, often mirroring Julie’s home life as her children grew.
“When my daughter was doing 4H, we had lots of farm animals — goats and baby chicks. When she was younger, we had pony rides and a bouncy house.”
Contributing to a collective cause
“Being actively involved with your congregation, having something you own and that’s important to you is really important, especially for our youth,” said Julie. “If they aren’t leading, they are leaving. This gives me the opportunity to involve other people and our larger community. We are all so grateful that people want to be part of something larger than themselves, part of this collective cause.”
“I chose LWR because I believe they make good use of the donations and where they work allows them to do meaningful work with lasting impact,” she continued. “There’s not a lot of organizations still in Yemen, for example. There will always be a need, but Harvest Sunday is one small way we can do our part.”
Engaging others for a common goal
She’s also learned to take advantage of the interests and abilities of congregational members and to personally invite people to contribute and participate. For the first 12 years, the congregation was mostly doing it on their own but since 2013 they have brought in Thrivent Care Communities to help with purchases and worked with local businesses and farmers markets for support and donations. Julie often reflects LWR’s work in the day’s activities. One year, they focused on LWR’s work around clean water and had various water games for participants.
Two weeks before the big event, Julie will do a children’s sermon to engage the congregation’s younger members more. And when the day is over, nothing is wasted, with leftover produce and baked goods going to the local food bank.