7:00 A.M. EDT July 21, 2011 | (UMNS)
While most people use their RVs for cross-country vacations, trips to Yosemite or other relaxing getaways, several United Methodists in California have found a way to enjoy their recreational pastimes while helping others.
RVers in Mission is a group of 30, mostly retirees, who volunteer to work on California-Pacific Annual Conference churches, campgrounds and facilities in need of repairs. They recently completed their 214th project at Pioneer Memorial United Methodist Church in Independence, a town of 669, in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Since the church has no parking lot, the RVers camped for a week in their recreational vehicles on the streets near the church, where they repaired and painted doors and made electrical repairs. They had to chip the paint, patch and prime before painting the exterior of the church. They also painted a Sunday school room, office and windows.
The RVers are not professional building contractors, but they have learned through their various projects to be painters, carpenters and repairers.
This was the second trip to Independence, a six-hour drive for most RVers in Mission members. On the first trip they painted the sanctuary – which had not been painted in nearly 40 years – and helped to fix the bell tower.
Ken Martin, 81, a volunteer with “RVers in Mission” paints
the steeple of Pioneer Memorial United Methodist Church in Independence, Calif. To his right is Leroy Plummer from the water and power company. UMNS photos by Justin Crutchfield.
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“It was such a blessing to our congregation that the RVers in Mission chose to come to our church,” said the Rev. Erin Maddox McPhee of Pioneer Memorial. “Being a small, rural congregation with a membership that is primarily older adults, we didn’t have the money or volunteers to give the exterior of our church building a much-needed new coat of paint.”
Neale Davis is a member of First United Methodist Church of Orange and the Wagon Master of RVers in Mission. “We are putting about a hundred gallons of paint on the outside of this church.”
25 years of working for others
The RVers in Mission organized in 1986 to help churches and campgrounds unable to handle expansion or upkeep. Davis estimates that the group’s volunteer work has saved churches, campgrounds and other church facilities more than $225,000 in 20 years. He believes they saved Pioneer Memorial United Methodist at least $20,000.
The group’s normal September-May work year includes eight projects, usually during the last week of the month. The group selects projects for the coming year at its April meeting.
“We try to get to each of the requests that we receive, but we cannot guarantee that we can do it,” says Davis. “The choices depend on what work is envisioned by the request and the space available for us to park our RVs at the church site.”
The wagon master’s job is to help coordinate all the projects during the year. Davis’ wife, Ruth, also treasurer of the group, helps with coordinating the food for all the projects.
Project coordinators for each site visit the church or facility before the work occurs to assess the job and what supplies the church or facility will have to provide. Sharon and Gary Mason, members of Mission Viejo United Methodist Church and coordinators for the 214th project, visited Independence in January to finalize details.
The group arrives at the project site on a Sunday afternoon, sets up the RVs, hooks up electricity and water, has a potluck dinner and reviews the projects ahead. The RVers start each morning at 8 with devotions. Then they begin work.
“We work full days on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and half days on Wednesday and Friday,” says Ken Martin, a member of First United Methodist Church of Orange. “The half days are somewhat flexible depending on how much we have committed to accomplish and how well the work seems to be going.
The RVers worked until late Friday afternoon at Independence. They were committed to finishing the work they had started.
Community pitches in
Sometimes they take the afternoon off to visit a local attraction and go out for a meal. When the owner of Jenny’s Café, Jennifer Ivey, heard the RVers were in town painting the church and doing repairs for Pioneer Memorial United Methodist, she sent food from her restaurant.
The local church members also have potlucks and provide snacks for the RVers. Philip Baxter, known as the “honey man,” brought buckwheat honey jars for all the RVers to take home. Baxter’s grandfather helped build the sanctuary.
Volunteers pause for a group portrait in front of Pioneer Memorial United Methodist Church in Independence, Calif.
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Through the years working on the various projects, the RVers have developed close bonds with each other. The sense of family is very strong among the group. Donald Conner, a member of the Santa Ana Cooperative Parish, publishes a newsletter to keep members informed about prayer needs and future projects.
“We are like a big family,” said Sharon Parker Mason, projector coordinator for the Pioneer Memorial project. “We spend a lot of time together serving others. In addition, I like doing a ministry that both my husband and I can do together.”
These RVers are great role models for the various churches they visit. Ken Martin, 81, said people from churches where he has worked have told him that if old people could do it, they could do it. Martin and Conner, 79, painted the bell tower at Pioneer Memorial.
As with any volunteer group, the RVers in Mission are always in need of new blood. “We are all retired and getting older,” Conner said.
“It is somewhat necessary to have an RV to be part of the group because the RV is our residence while working a project,” he added, but “anyone who is looking for a great way to serve God will be welcomed.”
*Gallardo Switzer is the California-Pacific Annual Conference Media Center Director.
News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.