The feast of Rummage

MOST CONGREGATIONS I KNOW take a deep breath between Easter and Pentecost, and for good reason. Lent is intense with study and service; Holy Week filled with prayer and worship; Easter glorious in its affirmation of Christ’s victory. It’s time to let down just a little. Granted, there may be myriad special events: Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, confirmation and baccalaureate celebrations, and more. But generally, churches are ready to slow down.

Not our church. Oh, no. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that no other church goes into another “high holy season” like ours does. For us, Eastertide means it’s time for our big Rummage Sale.

When I say “big,” I’m not kidding. We receive donations year-round. Every Monday and Thursday morning, 20 volunteers sort the items left on our doorstep. The goods are boxed by department, sealed and stored off-site. If there are things that we know can be used right away — like winter coats in November — they’ll go out the door to an agency. Otherwise, they’re labeled and stashed till sale week.

Sixty-four years of rummaging and we have it down. Ten days before the sale, three storage semis arrive, 200 tables are delivered and two tents go up in the parking lot. We use the tents the Sunday prior to Rummage for a blessing of the animals service. Then, right after worship, the fun begins. High school youth and advisors unload boxes off the trucks and take them to classrooms, Fellowship Hall, the youth lounge — everywhere but the sanctuary. Every room is designated for a department: children’s clothing, women’s clothing, men’s clothing, shoes, sporting equipment, furniture, housewares, toys, crafts, purses and scarves … it goes on and on.

For the next three days, over 400 volunteers unpack boxes, set up rooms and break down empty boxes to be used again. Then, on the first Saturday of May, around 3 a.m., the first shoppers arrive. By the time the doors open at 7 a.m., the line goes around the block. By the end of the day, thousands of people will have crossed the threshold.

Why do we do it? In part, for mission: every year, over $100,000 is raised by the sale to support our mission partners. Cumulatively, we estimate that around $5 million has been distributed over the years. And we do it in part as stewards of the environment: countless items would have been tossed into landfills instead of being reused and recycled. And we do it in part because it gets high quality goods into the hands of those who could never afford them otherwise.

But we also do it for this reason: Rummage is “the joyful feast of the Kingdom of God.” People come to volunteer and to shop from east and west and north and south — across Chicagoland and even across states. Rich and poor, black and white, male and female, Presbyterian and Catholic and Muslim and Jew and everything else under the sun — we roll up our sleeves together, we shop side by side, we share stories and lives, we weep in compassion and laugh in hysterics.

The post-Easter timing? It’s not great for our energy level. But it’s as close to Pentecost as we might come. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.