Don’t be surprised when on April 23, Rev. Joel Morsch, rector of the Christ Episcopal Church, begins Sunday service with bare feet. There is a reason.
Many church organizations focus on a variety of needs in the community, but Christ Episcopal, at 4030 Manatee Ave. W., saw a particular need in the community that wasn’t being addressed. For the sixth straight year, the church is in the midst of its annual Barefoot Sunday shoe drive.
“We learned from our food pantry that we were seeing so many homeless people, particularly children,” said Deacon Gretchen Platt. “We were giving them clothes and saw that there was a big need for shoes.”
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The food pantry is open from 2 to 4 p.m. every Thursday. The community and the church’s congregation have collected thousands of pairs of shoes for the Manatee County community over the past five years.
“Last year alone, we collected 2,410 pairs of shoes,” said Father R.J. Johnson, associate rector. “What we are seeing is a big need for is men’s athletic shoes and work boots. A lot of people that come to our pantry get jobs on road crews or in the fields and they get pretty torn up.”
April 23 is the big push, but the church accepts donated shoes throughout the year. They chose the Sunday after Easter as a way to continue the spiritual excitement of Jesus’ resurrection.
“The fact that it comes right after Easter with the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, shows us God cares about our physical well being as well our spiritual well being,” Johnson said. “We try to reflect the care of the whole body. We want to minister to a person’s body, soul and mind, not just the spiritual realm.”
Johnson said all of the shoes stay in Manatee County, whether dispersed directly from the church or partnering with agencies who see a similar need.
Parish facilitator Maryam Whitaker said a lot of people purchase new shoes for the annual drive and sometimes those shoes can be the difference between someone working and not working.
“Some jobs require that you have steel-toed boots,” she said. “If you don’t have them, you don’t get the job.”
Platt said she has been fortunate in life to never have to worry about where she would lay her head on any given night.
“I try to put myself in their place and it’s just unreal,” she said.
Christ Episcopal Church averages between 300-400 attendees every Sunday with about 700 people making up the entire congregation. The Episcopal Church was originally part of the Church of England, but the church broke ties with America after the Revolution. It became an independent entity in the young America, but over the years has returned to its origins.
Johnson said the church offers three very different services on Sundays. At 7:30 a.m., the first service is relatively a quiet and reflective service using traditional Old English language. At 9 a.m., the church offers a more modern contemporary service and at 11 a.m. the service is organ and choir based. Johnson explained that the Episcopal Church is somewhere in the middle of Protestant and Roman Catholic.
“Protestant in the sense that we don’t believe the Pope is infallible,” Johnson said. “God is the ultimate authority.”
For more information, call the church office at 941-747-3709.