News - April 9, 2008

Forgoing services for service

Churchgoers head out into community for annual Compassion Weekend

by Jane Knoerle

On the last Sunday of this month, the sanctuary of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, usually packed with people, will be empty. Instead of dressing in their Sunday best that morning, churchgoers will don jeans and sweatshirts.

It's all part of Compassion Weekend, April 26-27, a time when the church cancels its regular weekend services to tackle projects in the community.

That weekend, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church will send out 3,000 volunteers to help build eight homes, assemble 7,000 AIDS kits, hold health care clinics, repair 10 local schools, and visit five senior centers, including Nazareth Classic Care Community and Atherton Healthcare Center, both in Menlo Park.

In 2006, MPPC's senior pastor, John Ortberg, asked the church's mission ministry to come up with "a way to live out our call to serve the world," says Mission Director Bennie Ingraham.

The result was Compassion Weekend, where, instead of attending church services, a massive work force focuses on improving "education, health care, and humanity" in the community, says Ms. Ingraham. "People liked the idea a lot," she says. "We could worship that weekend by serving."

The church uses its Easter offering ($475,000) to fund the programs so nonprofits they are serving don't have to pay for supplies and materials.

Planning for Compassion Weekend, under the direction of Mission Pastor Mark Swarner, starts in November, when three volunteer leaders, one each for health care, humanity and education, are appointed.

The mission committee chooses worthwhile projects (21 this year) to be accomplished on the weekend. "Hundreds of hours go into preparation," says Nicole Laubscher, the church's communication director.

An information guide is assembled and printed that describes all projects in detail, noting location, for whom they would be appropriate, and shift schedule. A volunteer can sign up for a four-hour shift or elect to work all weekend.

Many families ask to work together, so there is even a place for 4-year-olds. The little ones can take part in a Sunday picnic at Flood Park put on for the homeless and poor who are clients of InnVision, formerly Urban Ministries in Palo Alto.

Eight-year-olds can work with their parents to help beautify the grounds and plant trees at Bayshore Christian Ministries in East Palo Alto.

The most ambitious project is construction or support work with Peninsula Habitat for Humanity at a new construction site at 122 Lincoln Ave. in Redwood City.

The project is cluster of eight town houses that low-income families purchase with no-interest loans. Most of the land and materials are provided by donations and much of the labor comes from volunteers, including 500 hours of "sweat equity" each family puts into its own home.

Volunteers will also paint a mural, designed by a community committee, at Onetta Harris Community Center, 100 Terminal Ave. in Menlo Park. The volunteers will help with site prep, painting, washing brushes, supporting the painters, and cleanup. There will be a block-style party Sunday evening to celebrate the project's completion.

In the church's locations in Menlo Park, San Mateo and Mountain View, volunteers will assemble 7,000 AIDS kits for caregivers in Africa and the Caribbean. The kits contain rubber gloves, flashlights, towels, ointment, a notebook, and cotton balls. "These are the things we have been asked for," says Ms. Ingraham.

In the past two years, 4,200 volunteers assembled 23,300 kits to be sent overseas, where they will be distributed by World Vision. The project is great for children or older adults, says the information guide.

At the end of both work days, there will be a worship celebration at 6 p.m. in the sanctuary at 950 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park. Volunteers are welcome to come in their work clothes, says Ms. Ingraham. "If they're dirty, that's OK."

Church invites community to join in

The Menlo Park Presbyterian Church invites all members of the community to join its congregation for the Compassion Weekend projects. Volunteers may sign up online at or at the church office, 950 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park. Registration deadline for all projects is Monday, April 21. Beginning the week of April 14, registrants will be sent updates and details by e-mail or postal mail.


Posted by Mary Beckstrom, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 20, 2008 at 10:02 am

I am overjoyed to be a part of this caring community. I am a member of MPPC and will be helping to put together Aids Kits this coming Saturday. Anyone who would like to see the vidio about this, go to and click on Compassion Weekend then Vidio. It brought tears to my eyes.

Posted by Pastor Bernie, a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2008 at 1:05 pm

I live in Santa Barbara County and Pastor a church. This heart to be the church and not just go to church will impact the member of MPPC and the community at large. They are going and doing what God is calling them to BE. I applaud this great vision and church. We are planning to do the same type of thing this summer and this fuels our passion.

Posted by Bill Gestal, a resident of another community
on Apr 29, 2008 at 8:43 am

I live in Connecticut. Last year a friend and former church member moved back to CA and attends MPPC. He just sent me info on this years compassion weekend, which he and his wife attended. And his link lead me to this link. What a trememndous idea and witness to the community of the practical love of Jesus. This article is a wonderful description of the weekend. Thanks MPPC for your love and creativity... maybe the idea can spread to Connecticut.

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