Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mission in the Car Park of the Church

As I am writing this post from my comfy living room, the rain is drizzling down outside, scones are baking in the oven, and the Euro 2012 Republic of Ireland v. Spain football match is playing on the television (Spain is up 1-0 in the 25th minute).  Just another enjoyable evening in Belfast!

Before settling into my flat for the night, I was down at Whitehouse taking part in the church's weekly car boot sale.  During the summer months of the year, a team of about 15 volunteers run a car boot sale every Thursday evening.  At about 3:30 P.M. cars start arriving at the church and are directed into a parking space.  People then open up their boots (trunks) and set up stalls to sell anything from baked goods, used books and dvd's, clothing, and toys to their used kitchen sink (that is not a figure of speech)!  If the weather is nice, there can be up to 90 cars in the car park, but we have averaged about 50 cars per week this year. 

I say that I take part in the car boot sale because I don't do a whole lot to help out at the sale.  I usually spend my time walking around talking to various people in the car park - members of Whitehouse who are working the sale, people selling bric-a-brac out of their car boots, and members of the community shopping at all of the different stalls.  If I am not doing this, I am sitting with Anne and Betty at the church's prayer stall.  At some time during the evening I get my dinner from the kitchen volunteers inside the church.  During the sale, the church doors are open for people to come in and buy burgers, hot dogs, chips, crisps, sweets and of course tea and coffee.

The car boot sale is a valuable mission for Whitehouse for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it is a way for the church to be engaged in the community. I was speaking with a friend of mine at Whitehouse last night about churches making a difference in their community. He said a great way to gauge the church's involvement in the community is to answer the question, "If the church closed tomorrow, would anyone in the community, not members of the church, notice?" I can recall two specific instances, once at the grocery store and once at the bus stop, where I was asked what I was doing in Belfast. I told the people that I was volunteering at Whitehouse Presbyterian, and they responded with, "Is that the church that does the car boot sale?" This is proof of the church being engaged with the community in which it resides.

Another valuable aspect of the car boot sale is the different perception it gives to the church. Between the hours of 4:00 and 8:00 P.M., there is a constant flow of people moving in and out of the doors of the church. For a wide range of reasons, church can be a frightening place for people to enter, but during the car boot sale Whitehouse is a nonthreatening place where people can gather around a bit of grub and conversation. The barriers which keep people away on a Sunday morning disappear behind friendly banter and delicious smells of burgers and sausages. I would venture a guess that more people enter the church on a typical car boot Thursday evening than on a Sunday morning.

Lastly, the car boot sale is a great fundraiser for the church and local charities. Money is collected for the burgers, sausages and chips, for the cars setting up stalls and in charity buckets at the entrance to the car park.

Well, the rain has stopped, Spain is now up 4-0, and I have sampled a scone fresh from the oven. I think I will call it a night!
Kitchen crew serving up burgers

Bucket collection

Two of the men behind the madness


  1. Great post and a nice way to reach out and engage the community! Our church's 'Saturday Free Car Care Outreach' has been an amazing blessing to our area. Imagine if all churches did something to benefit people outside their walls regularly. Our world would be a different place. No?
    Miss you guys! ~Leslie and Mike

  2. How can I contact you? This is regarding an event my organisation is doing in Belfast next Thursday. Please let me know at