Christ the Redeemer, Canonsburg, PA

One of the most defining attributes of humans as a whole is our pursuit of importance. We seek to be prized and respected by
friends and loved ones, co-workers, and fellow church members. Our human desire is to see ourselves as better, different, and
apart from the rest.

11873710_517468681742387_6102822900335004904_nOf course, the Gospel has a tendency of going against our comfortable, self-absorbed ways (the author not excluded from this assessment!).God does not call us to personal glory but to ministry, to care for those both in and outside of the Church. Even the word “ministry,” derived from the Greek words diakoneo, meaning “to serve” or douleuo, meaning “to serve as a slave,” opposes our sensibilities—not only must we serve others but serve sacrificially, just as Christ did!

Because of this calling, the Church has been ministering to people and communities for as long as those faithful to God’s Word have been gathering together. Ministry isn’t pretty—it is often difficult and uncomfortable. And it is certainly not glamorous. But it can be beautiful seeing lives changed, hearts touched, and God’s love felt by those who do not know Him. Ministries are not created by important people—they are built by every hand held, in every gift given, and, sometimes, through every diaper collected.

An example of an excellent ministry is the Christ the Redeemer Diaper Pantry in Canonsburg, PA. The parish has been hosting a monthly diaper distribution since February 2015. Their ministry has grown and includes additional diaper drives in neighboring areas.

12227086_549766475179274_8640891108214254037_nEmily Nugent, one of the Diaper Pantry Board of Directors and main organizers, shared that the ministry did not start with such auspicious beginnings. “The church vestry had been looking for ways to reach out to the community, but nothing had really caught on.” Inspiration dawned when Deacon Regis Turocy and Rector David Wilson found an article in the Catholic Herald about diaper banks and shared it as a ministry idea. Especially in poverty stricken areas, inadequate diaper supplies force parents to leave children in soiled diapers, leading to diaper rash or more serious problems, such as staph or urinary tract infections.

“It was really a God moment,” she shared, “I normally don’t talk in vestry meetings, but God told me to speak up and so I looked into it. I just couldn’t imagine, being a mother myself, not having diapers for my children.” The Christ the Redeemer Church now runs the only Diaper Pantry in Washington County.

The planning and formation of the ministry began in 2014, and by February 2015 they were ready for their first distribution. “No one came the first month,” Emily said, laughing, “I cried. I was pregnant at the time, so that didn’t help, but I cried when no one came.” Luckily, news about their ministry spread through the community and, at the next month’s distribution, 28 families came. The numbers have continued to increase. In August 2016 100 families and 150 children were given diapers. At the August distribution the Pantry also passed the 100,000 mark in total diapers distributed since its inauguration in February 2014. The pantry has also expanded to distributing food, clothing, shoes, toys, books, and other items.

12241716_549766451845943_5175034475305437764_nDistribution day can be a hectic but positive experience. They distribute the 3rd Saturday of every month from 9am-12:30pm. “It’s a crazy day,” Emily said, “Lots of people coming in and getting diapers and leaving. But some people will come and speak to us, reaching out for prayer. Although we’re not allowed to ‘preach’ to them, because we’re associated with the National Diaper Bank Network, if people ask for prayer, some of our deacons will take them aside and pray with them. We’ll add them to our prayer list and invite them to our regular services and vacation bible school. We also send them information about our Christmas and Easter services. But we mostly try our best to help the families and just be there for them.”

As well as the community at large, Christ the Redeemer has been positively impacted by this ministry. In 2012 Christ the Redeemer, previously St. David’s Episcopal Church in Peters Township, lost its building after the parish moved to the ACNA. Moving towns also meant they lost some parishioners, and that those who did move with the church did not, by and large, belong to the Canonsburg community. “The Diaper Pantry has brought the church closer,” Emily said, “The move, the relocation, trying to rebuild, and working the pantry—it’s opened people’s eyes and helped us become more of a family.”

The parishioners of Christ the Redeemer have also really taken on the day to day needs of the ministry. The pantry’s Board of Directors is made up of church members, and many of the donors to the ministry are church members or local businesses with ties to the church. But the lay people of Christ the Redeemer have not only given their finances but something more valuable—their time. Nearly all the volunteers on work days and distribution days are church members, including entire families of all ages. “A 94-year-old man gets a ride to come and wrap diapers every distribution day!” Emily said, “There are also toddlers who come and practice writing letters and numbers on packages of diapers. This is a church family effort.”10449934_10100523411471735_8286146631295355875_n

Beginning a life-affirming ministry like this can be intimidating, but often the easiest way to start is to see what is already being done. “Look for a larger national affiliation,” Emily recommended, “We’re associated with the National Diaper Bank, and they gave us a lot of help on how to start and what paperwork to fill out. Find a bigger level of what you want to start.” Many of us feel the pressure of having to “recreate the wheel,” but often we can follow the lead of other successful ministries!

Still, the most important part of the Diaper Pantry is not just the diapers, but that God’s love is present and shared. “I looked up the statistics, one in three mothers struggle to get clean diapers. These women are stressed and worried and feel the social stigma. We want to provide a more nurturing environment for mom and child, and to show them that there are good Christians out there who want to help them, who are going to love them and serve them.”

We applaud the work and dedication of the Christ the Redeemer Diaper Pantry ministry. Their life-affirming work bears witness to the Church’s value for Life and the need for all the people of God to defend, honor, and celebrate those made in God’s image. We pray that not only will their work provide diapers for children and families in need but will also demonstrate Christ’s love for all people of all ages.

Written by Robin Ferguson
Originally appeared in AFL’s September 2016 Carpe Diem newsletter