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  • Writer's pictureDiocese of WNC

Towel Ministry Builds Up Community, Gives Youth Missional Experience

By Eden Lewis, Director of Lifelong Formation 

Youth from our diocese and beyond again experienced what it means to put love into action through Towel Ministry during the last week of June. Towel Ministry offers a missional experience for high school youth focused on spreading the Gospel through action by completing home improvement projects for elderly and disabled folks, being the hands and feet of God in the local communities that we serve.  

Youth have the opportunity to be part of the key missional components that guide Towel Ministry: Action, Relationship, and Spreading the good news of the Gospel, throughout the mission week. They experience these through home repair work at local homes in the Saluda area, building relationships with the homeowners, each other, and the local congregation, and spreading the good news of the Gospel through intentional acts of service and community worship.  

Towel Ministry evolved as a response to the need in Western North Carolina for housing improvements, repairs, and maintenance for elderly and disabled folks. Deacon Cris Greer and Fr. Gene McDowell brought the ministry to Holy Cross Episcopal Church after Greer and his wife moved to Valle Crucis in 1993. The ministry continued at the Valle Crucis Conference Center until the mid-2000s. Bishop José has championed this ministry since he arrived in Western North Carolina. 

Now, Towel Ministry is in its fifth year at the Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda. This year they welcomed youth from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and youth from the Saluda area. While this was the Virginia Beach youth's first time at Towel Ministry, many of the youth from the Saluda area were returning for the third or fourth year. Also, a group of young adults who were part of the inaugural year of Towel Ministry returned to be counselors for the week.  

Jack Taylor, 21, is a chemical engineering student at Clemson and has been involved with Towel Ministry since it began in Saluda in 2019. He now volunteers as a counselor for the program.  

“Being involved with Towel has changed my life, genuinely. I’ve met some of the best friends of my life here. The work that we do really gives us a sense of good will, and it changes lives, not just for the homeowners but for those of us involved as well,” Taylor said.  

Throughout the week, the youth and young adults worked side by side as they served homeowners in the Saluda area. They spent their days removing and replacing old flooring, building a deck and a staircase, weed eating, mowing, bushwacking a field, pressure washing a home, and digging a drainage ditch. During this time, they worked extremely hard in some of the hottest weather conditions of the year and never complained. They truly embodied the love of Jesus through their serving hearts and actions.  

In the afternoon and evening, they spent time in fellowship and worship. A major part of the week is building community with each other not just through the work, but through fun times and spiritual connections. We were extremely thankful that a parishioner of The Church of the Transfiguration offered us the chance to spend two evenings at Lake Summit. As the evenings wound down, each night we were led into worship by Rev. Melody, the Associate Priest from (insert name of church) with joyful music and prayer. The evening worship services were a powerful reminder of God’s healing touch on our lives and the connection that we have to the Holy Spirit.   

On the last night, we were blessed to have one of the homeowners join us for the foot washing service and share with us how much the week meant to her and her children. She said it had been years since she had been in a church, due to religious trauma, but felt called to share her gratitude and love for the youth and this ministry. She was reminded that strangers can become friends and that the world is not filled with people who are only out for themselves.  We were moved by her openness, vulnerability, and willingness to be part of our community and join us in worship.  

To sum up the week, I would like to share comments by Ron Earwood, one of the founding members of Towel Ministry.  

“We had 17 young men and women show up as individuals, but as the week progressed, I saw them come together as one body in Christ. They worked, played, swam, and prayed as one loud statement that Christ is alive and well. This camp progressed without bickering or drama from anyone. It was all about serving those in the world that most people have forgotten about. We talk about marginalized people all the time while ignoring God’s word to serve all people. Many people only want to serve to get their names in the headlines. These young people served those who needed help without any fanfare.  Not only did they work, clean, and cut overgrown yards, but they talked, prayed, and listened to their [the homeowner's] concerns. They truly know how to serve God.”  


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