From Spirit in the Hills Lutheran Church in Spicewood, Texas, to First Lutheran Church of San Diego, some ELCA congregations are adding clothing donations to their Palm Sunday processionals, linking the gospel story with neighbors’ needs today.
Drew Ingram, pastor of Spirit in the Hills, said he heard last year about congregations bringing clothing donations for Palm Sunday. He and other congregational leaders thought that it would be a wonderful tradition to start at their church too.
“What a way to include in worship an action that directly serves God and neighbor—laying down an offering, being drawn into the gospel story and serving Christ through serving our neighbor in need,” Ingram said, noting the Bible readings that mention the spreading of cloaks during Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
The clothing project was proposed at First during a planning meeting a few years ago. Hannah DeMers, the office administrator, said the idea seemed to be a good fit with the congregation’s mission. First has a nonprofit, the Third Avenue Charitable Organization (TACO), that provides food, legal services and medical care to people in need.
On Palm Sunday, parishioners at each congregation process with both palms and clothing items.
“We process in, singing joyfully and shouting ‘hosanna’ as we lay down our clothing items beneath our cross wall in the narthex and wave our palms in the air,” Ingram said. “There’s usually a lot of smiles, kids and youth making multiple laps in the procession and making sure everyone has a palm and clothing item, the occasional laughter, and some loud, passionate, beautiful voices raising praise and worship to God.”
“What a way to include in worship an action that directly serves God and neighbor—laying down an offering, being drawn into the gospel story and serving Christ through serving our neighbor in need.”
DeMers said First’s service begins outside on the patio. “We do process with palms while singing ‘All Glory, Laud and Honor’ a cappella,” she said. “We walk into the sanctuary, down either side of the aisle, where people are invited to place the donated clothing items they’ve brought.”
The service ends without a musical recessional, which DeMers said is a way to help members and visitors connect with both the joy of Jesus’ coming and the solemnity of his Holy Week sacrifice.
DeMers and Ingram agree that while sin and human need still exist, clothing donations can help meet some needs and, in a tangible way, show people they’re loved.
At First, the clothing donations have an almost immediate effect for people who visit TACO.
“At the end of the service, Wayne, our facilities and security administrator, would help [former minister of music] Jared [Jacobsen] pick up all the clothing and put it in the downstairs TACO office, if there was room for it,” DeMers said. “Over the following week, most of those donations would be handed out to the homeless people who came to the church for a meal or for help of some kind.”
“We process with palms while singing ‘All Glory, Laud and Honor’ a cappella. We walk into the sanctuary, down either side of the aisle, where people are invited to place the donated clothing items they’ve brought.”
At Spirit in the Hills, the congregation contributed more than 250 clothing items last Palm Sunday, Ingram said.
While discerning where donations would be most needed in March and April, Ingram learned from a lay leader at another congregation that the United Methodist Men’s clothing closet had a need for clothing.
Spirit in the Hills also donated some items to Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a social outreach ministry based in Austin, Texas, with which the congregation had previously worked.
“When our volunteers arrived to deliver the clothes to Mobile Loaves & Fishes, their closet had just been emptied of its last men’s clothing items, so we were meeting their need right at the perfect moment,” Ingram said, adding that it was one of many “Holy Spirit moments” he noticed along the way.
“In many ways, the act of laying down our possessions and our interests for the sake of our neighbor in need has guided my faith,” he said. “The practice of laying down clothing items while shouting praise to Christ, our Lord, helped me make the connection between what it means to proclaim my faith and live it. It gives me a concrete example and an opportunity to participate in what it truly means to follow Jesus.”