By Jim Nieman
A women’s group at a church of about 35 in Rogersville, Tenn., started a ministry in 2016 that has grown like, well . . . a pile of laundry.
The Rogersville Laundry Ministry began as a once-a-month outreach to people at a local laundromat and has developed into a weekly endeavor that relies on dozens of volunteers from several churches to serve hundreds of people at two laundromats.
“Our church’s mission is ‘Loving People to Jesus,’” said Dawnel Newhouse of First Christian Church of Rogersville. “Basically, it’s what we’re trying to do” with the laundry ministry.
But Newhouse is quick to point out “it’s not just a church ministry anymore. The Special Olympics now provides volunteers.”
The idea for the Rogersville Laundry Ministry came from the friend of a member of the women’s group who described a similar program in Knoxville, Newhouse said. “We decided to give it a try.” A laundromat in the town of 4,300 gave its permission to move forward.
Here’s the simple premise: On Thursdays, from 5 to 7 p.m., church folks go to a local laundromat and provide everything necessary for people to do their laundry—detergent, bleach, fabric softener, dryer sheets, and up to $10 in quarters.
“When we started this laundry ministry, we bought $50 in supplies,” Newhouse said, “and we’ve never spent another penny on supplies.” Donations to the ministry have been strong from the beginning.
Not that the ministry was an overnight success. It took a while to get the word out to the folks who most benefit from it and to build momentum, said Newhouse, whose husband, Steve, serves as minister of First Christian Church.
THE MINISTRY GROWS
After about a year, another church expressed interest in joining the effort, and they helped establish a better “system” at the laundromat, Newhouse said. “Tally sheets” were incorporated to keep track of how much was being spent for each family unit doing laundry.
In March 2018, the ministry expanded its operation to two locations—the West Rogersville and Dirty Dudz laundromats—from 5 to 7 p.m. every Thursday. That’s when most of the other churches joined the effort. Currently, each church takes one monthly shift at a single laundromat, providing all volunteers. Then, whenever there is a fifth Thursday, the laundry teams are comprised of volunteers from various churches. Communication occurs via the laundry ministry’s very active Facebook page.
Newhouse, the ministry’s coordinator, shared these statistics indicative of the ministry’s success and growth:
• During the final seven months of 2017 (June to December), the ministry served 322 people.
• During 2018, the ministry served 4,223 people (352 each month) and spent more than $10,000.
• Through July of this year, 3,004 had been served.
Newhouse, a former nursing home administrator, has written guidelines that are shared with the other churches and volunteers. Each laundry session starts with a prayer.
People who use the service fill out a simple sign-up sheet that asks the number of folks for whom they are doing laundry and includes a place for prayer requests. Volunteers pray for and—if asked—with the people they serve.
“We do not do their laundry for them, but we provide all they will need to get it done,” Newhouse said. In fact, the ministry involves virtually no actual “labor” by volunteers, she said, which was important at the outset because First Christian Church has an older membership. Volunteers hand out supplies, as needed, along with quarters for the washers and dryers.
As mentioned, there is plenty of detergent and laundry supplies in reserve to fulfill the ministry’s needs for the near future, but there is an unending need for cash to feed the washers and dryers.
“It costs about $400 to $500 a week for the laundry ministry,” Newhouse said. The women’s ministry has provided funds, and individuals throughout the town have been very generous.
“We get checks in the mail all the time,” Newhouse said. “People stop on Thursday nights and give us rolls of quarters and supplies.”
Other one-time financial boosts have included a community worship service that designated offering funds to the ministry, and a “fill-the-boot” style collection in Rogersville that chose RLM as its beneficiary one month.
Volunteers also modified laundry pod bottles into donation buckets and placed them in stores and restaurants. At one time, these bottles were generating $300 to $400 per month, but some of the participating businesses have closed in recent months.
BRINGING PEOPLE, CHURCHES TOGETHER
Newhouse stressed that this is a ministry that virtually any church could start. She said it’s a ministry beneficial to people who tend to be most in need of help, and that clean clothes help boost self-esteem.
She said church folks in Rogersville frequently recommend the laundry ministry to people they know or encounter who could use the service.
The ministry hasn’t resulted in a great wave of new folks attending First Christian. “We’ve had a few, but not as many as we would like,” Newhouse said. But relationships are developing. People recognize one another in town and exchange greetings.
In addition to First Christian Church, others that participate in the laundry ministry include Burem Missionary Baptist Church, Hope Community Church, Persia Baptist Church, Phipps Bend Free Will Baptist Church, Tunnel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Rogersville Methodist Church, First Baptist Church of Rogersville, and Hawkins County Special Olympics.
Newhouse would like to see even more growth.
“We would love to have more local churches get involved and sponsor a night and provide labor for an event,” she said. “We would love to have as many nights available for this ministry as we can.”
She also welcomes contributions to the ministry. Checks payable to First Christian Church (with “Laundry Ministry” in the memo section) are tax-deductible.
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.