Twice a year Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA, opens its doors to help meet physical as well as spiritual needs in a free clothing ministry called Open Closet.
“This free clothing ministry allows us to build bridges between the church and the community,” explains organizer Maryann Wilcox. “The Open Closet is a ministry that the Lord put on our hearts to help meet the physical needs…with clothing and other items and…spiritual needs with the gospel message of freedom and salvation in Christ and everlasting life.”
The church’s Open Closet program began several years ago and has become well known in Carbondale. Church members and a number of volunteers from the greater community provide donations and assist with preparations. Most donations are clothing, although some smaller household items are also accepted. As donations come in to the church throughout the year, organizers sort and wash clothes if necessary prior to storing them in bins. Open Closets are held in the spring and fall, usually one in late May and another in early November. Tables are set up in the church basement and stacked with the sorted clothing.
As people arrive at the Open Closet, volunteers greet them and ask them to sign in. They are then given a bag that contains spiritual literature and information about Covenant Reformed Church. Deacons and elders are available to answer questions or speak with the many visitors.
“All are very thankful for our efforts in having a clean, neat and warm environment to come to,” says Maryann, “and all items are free.”
Rev. Bill Boekestein relates that the Open Closet program functions as only one part of Covenant’s broader plan for congregational outreach.
“One of the reasons we organize the Open Closet is to ‘show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits, and that He may be praised by us’ (H.C. LD 32),” he says. “The Open Closet has been an occasion for us to reflect on how good the Lord has been to us and to show our gratitude in a tangible way. But another reason we host the Open Closet is to help our church develop a positive reputation in the community. We think this is a broader application of 1 Timothy 3:7 where Paul says that an elder ‘must have a good testimony among those who are outside.’ As a church, we hope to be a vital part of our community for years to come. One long-term goal is for people to associate Covenant Reformed Church with such attitudes as generosity, kindness, and love.”
While no human can know how the Spirit works in hearts, organizers can cite many examples of ways interaction with people in the community is increased as the compassion of Christ is demonstrated.
One young woman left her shopping cart outside on the front lawn while she “shopped” inside. When she came back out, the cart had been stolen. Since it belonged to her mother and it was the only means of transportation the two had, she was devastated. Maryann consoled her and assured her that she would speak to the deacons about taking care of her problem. The deacons purchased a new cart for her and delivered it to her home. She asked in surprise, “You would do that for me?”
Maryann also relates that clean clothing is a blessing for people who do not own washers and dryers and cannot afford to go to the laundromat. Other visitors are blessed when volunteers express compassion through greeting them by name or helping them pick out clothes, especially someone like a pregnant 15-year-old who needs to know someone cares about her situation.
Rev. Boekestein gives two examples from the most recent Open Closet: “In the first case, Ed, a recent occasional attender of our church, responded to a request to help promote the Open Closet by posting flyers around the city. Although I had talked with Ed on a few occasions after church, it was wonderful to spend time with him, one on one, in a more casual setting. Second, a gentleman named Raymond spent quite a long time talking with members of our church during the Open Closet and then joined us the next day at church. We were delighted to have him with us and look forward to how the Lord might be working in his life. I could give dozens of other examples of how the Open Closet has given us opportunities to meaningfully interact with folks from our community.”
After an Open Closet event, extra items are sent to the Scranton Rescue Mission. “It’s a win-win situation,” Maryann says. “We are a small church and are limited in space.”
While each Open Closet features a church basement full of free clothing, organizers aim to meet not only the body’s physical need, but also the soul’s eternal need.
“Our goal is the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Maryann affirms. “Christ does tell us that we are to help the poor or downtrodden by ministering the Word of God to them and lifting them up in the Lord. We are planting spiritual seeds and are waiting to see what the great Savior will do with His harvest.”
“I do not think that this is just a church mission, but a Great Commission. We are all told to take the gospel to all men, telling them of God’s great love that we, while yet sinners were guilty of transgressing His Law, He paid our penalty and has now released us from our guilt through the finished work of Jesus Christ and the redemptive blood of His Son. In connection with the Open Closet, we have used tracts that explain that God’s goodness should lead to repentance (Rom. 2:4). We hope and pray that as people experience some of God’s goodness in receiving free clothing that they would repent of their sins and seek God’s mercy.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the July 10, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.