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Originally published Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Easter, with a passion for plain living and giving

From living simpler in order to donate saved money to others, to creating a co-op to share homegrown vegetables, some local churches are starting projects to respond to these tough economic times. It's their way of celebrating the Easter message of living life in a new, more selfless way.

Seattle Times staff reporter

At Bethany Community Church near Green Lake, members are giving up coffee, driving less or not renting DVDs, each hoping to save $1 a day for the next 50 days. The goal: pool the money and donate it to people in Uganda to build wells.

At Greenwood Christian Church, members plan to start a food co-op, sharing with one another and neighbors the tomatoes, onions and zucchinis they grow in their home gardens.

And at Bellevue Korean Presbyterian Church, members intend to knock on doors of nearby residents, randomly giving out bags of groceries.

This Easter, as most Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, some local churches are finding new ways to live more simply, and do more with — and for — their communities. They see in the tough economic times and in the celebration of Easter a call to live life in a more selfless way.

"The unemployment rate and economy being what it is — I guess I don't see us coming out the other side the same as we went in," said Greenwood Christian Church's Pastor Bill Davis, who sees people re-evaluating their lifestyles, values and relationships.

Similarly, Pastor Richard Dahlstrom at Bethany Community Church is emphasizing the connection between helping people in concrete ways and the spiritual message of Easter.

"When Christ rose, he inaugurated a new way of living," Dahlstrom said. "It's laying down your lives for others, sharing resources.

"It's not everyone for himself."

Experience the heavy burden

On a sunny Sunday afternoon earlier this month, about a dozen Bethany Community Church members knelt by the shores of Green Lake, filling 5-gallon jugs with water and carrying them part way around the lake.

It was a way to experience, at least for a few minutes, the heavy burden borne by women and children in Uganda who sometimes walk for miles each day to get water for drinking, cooking and washing.

The idea for the project came from a church member. The idea to tie it to Easter came from Dahlstrom.

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He had thought of doing the project during Lent because a large part of it is challenging church members to give up something in order to live simpler.

But "really, this is an Easter message," he said. "This is Jesus' way of living. We're trying to learn what it means to live in that way."

Sharing

For Randy Caldwell, associate minister at Greenwood Christian Church, community is one of the most important themes of Easter.

After Christ rose, he left a following of believers who shared with one another so that no one was in need, he said.

In the past several years, Caldwell's church has gotten more involved in the neighborhood, participating in block parties and neighborhood watches.

Now, the church is asking members who garden — along with friends and neighbors who also do — to donate the use of their garden or the produce they grow, perhaps teaching novice gardeners along the way. At first, they likely will only exchange the produce, but eventually, they hope to can extra food to donate.

Similarly, church members are creating a list of tools and services they're willing to share: lawn mowers or edge trimmers, language-translation help or home repairs.

The idea is to not just be a food bank where people go to get food, Caldwell said. Rather, it's to be able to say: "We've got your back."

"Dreams, hopes, jobs"

At St. Mary's Catholic Church in the Central Area, many members work — or worked — in the trades.

Parishioners are thinking of creating a fund to hire out-of-work members to do repair, painting and other small jobs around the church. Shortly after Easter, a member who is a job counselor plans to start a job-hunting group.

All of that speaks to the Easter message of hope, said Tricia Wittmann-Todd, pastoral associate at St. Mary's.

A lot of people have been feeling that their life is like Good Friday, she said. "They feel they're being crucified; they're being put to death, or things around them are dying: their dreams, hopes, jobs."

Yet with Easter comes "hope in the resurrection that keeps us going."

Outreach

Traditionally, ethnic churches have served mainly their own members, understandably limited by language and culture, said Pastor Young Cho of Bellevue Korean Presbyterian Church.

But this year, Cho's church added English services in addition to Korean-language ones.

And this Easter, members are making a point of inviting non-Korean members.

They've also recently started doing small, random acts of kindness, knocking on doors of nearby apartment complexes to give out light bulbs and, soon they hope, bags of groceries.

"Someone once asked: If your church one day disappears or relocates, will the neighborhood know you're gone?" Cho said. "We want to define our church in a new way: for our neighborhood."

" ... a forced Lent"

Christine Sine, co-founder of Seattle-based Mustard Seed Associates, which helps churches respond to a changing culture, is teaching a workshop this month on the spirituality of gardening.

Every time she gardens, she says, she experiences a sense of death and resurrection, burying the seed and then watching it sprout into life.

So it is with the country these days, she says.

"We as a nation are, in essence, in a forced Lent — suffering loss," she said. "What we're needing is to experience resurrection... . The world to come will probably not look the same as the world that was."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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