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An annual tradition of ministry and service is being reinstated this month after being called off in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, Sept. 25, nine area churches will partner together for Mission Morganton, a one-day missions and community service blitz throughout the community.

Mission Morganton will go on in a modified form this year due to the current COVID-19 outbreak in Burke County, according to the Rev. Fred Schuszler, minister of education for First Baptist Church of Morganton, one of the event’s primary organizers. He said a lot has been learned about COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago. He believes they will be able to hold the event in a way that keeps volunteers protected from contracting and spreading the virus.

“It will be scaled back a little bit this year,” Schuszler said. “We have almost as many projects as we usually do — we’re just trying to do as many as possible outdoors. There are also several smaller projects that might be inside like painting, but those would be smaller with only a few people so they can be careful and wear masks if they need to.”

He said the only major project that has been canceled due to the pandemic is the Burke United Christian Ministries food distribution that usually takes place at First Baptist Church.

“We thought it would be a little too close for comfort,” Schuszler said. “It just didn’t seem that it would work this year.”

This year, volunteers from the nine participating churches will complete more than 20 service projects, ranging from yard work, painting, light repairs and beautification for local nonprofit organizations, to a wood chop ministry that provides firewood for people who need wood for the winter and a city-wide trash clean-up.

In addition to the more labor-intensive projects, Mission Morganton will collect items for Burke United Christian Ministries, the Pregnancy Care Center of Burke County and Burke Animal Services. Volunteers will set up a food collection at several local grocery stores.

The Rev. Dr. Marshall Jolly, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, a “Mission Morganton” partner church, said that these food collections are instrumental in helping his church’s backpack ministry, which distributes more than 2,000 pounds of food to children and families each year through local schools.

First Baptist Church originally started Mission Morganton as a part of the larger Operation Inasmuch, a worldwide faith-based community service organization initially created by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. According to the organization’s website, the goal of Operation Inasmuch is to motivate and equip churches to obey the biblical mandate to minister to the “least of these.” Since 1996, more than 2,100 churches in 25 states have participated in Operation Inasmuch.

Schuszler explained that First Baptist Church began participating on its own in 1998 before inviting other churches to join them a few years later. Over the years, hundreds of local volunteers have logged thousands of volunteer hours, completing projects across Morganton and Burke County. This year, First United Methodist Church of Morganton, First Presbyterian Church of Morganton, Iglesia De Dios Nueva Vida, Grace Episcopal Church, Oak Hill United Methodist Church, New Day Christian Church, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, First Baptist Church and Calvary Lutheran Church will participate in the effort.

“Through Mission Morganton, we are so proud to link arms with our faithful friends from other congregations,” said the Rev. John Hagmann, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “People who know, love, and follow Jesus are called to love God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Opportunities like Mission Morganton give us a great chance to do just that. We are so grateful to partner with our friends to serve our neighbors in tangible ways.”

Hagmann noted that First Presbyterian has a more than 200-year history of ministering to and serving the people of Morganton. He sees this project as an essential way for members of First Presbyterian to continue the church’s long heritage of community service.

Jolly pointed out the vital place Mission Morganton has come to hold in the community, calling it a “staple of ecumenical mission and outreach.”

“We at Grace have long enjoyed partnering with our sibling churches in the area,” Jolly said. “We are grateful for this ongoing partnership and look forward to working together again this year.”

Hagmann added that the ecumenical nature of Mission Morganton — different people from various denominations, ethnicities, cultures and traditions working together for the good of the community — is one of his favorite aspects of the project.

“We get to work together and appreciate all the gifts and abilities they bring to the table,” he said. “We are so much better when we’re together. Ultimately, regardless of our ties to denominations, congregations or traditions, followers of Jesus are on the same team.”

For more information about Mission Morganton, to volunteer for or donate items to the effort, contact First Baptist Church at 828-437-2544 or bring donated items to any of the partner churches.

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