If you are interested in helping out with the pew bear ministry, please call First Baptist Church of Gainesville at 770-534-7354.
Teddy bears can warm hearts and bring smiles without saying a word.
And starting Sunday, First Baptist Church members Dave and Pam Black, along with other volunteers, will expand the quiet bears' friendly ways, using them to develop new relationships with homebound church members.
"I've always had a heart for the lonely and just hoping that these people's spirits will be lifted," said Pam Black, who was raised by her grandparents. "We as a people, we don't mean to forget anybody but you get busy with your schedule and time goes by and then there's just people that are shut in that don't have anyone. We are hoping that people take hold of this ministry, and it's just so wonderful to be involved in it."
The Pew Bear project allows younger church members, including families, singles and couples, to adopt a bear and take it to a homebound First Baptist member. The program then encourages volunteers to visit the homebound member, and their bear, once a month.
"We are going to provide some consistent care to our older homebound members ... and keep visiting over and over to develop a relationship," said the Rev. Bruce Fields, associate pastor of pastoral care at First Baptist. "The bear is a token of love; that's the connection."
Fields said the Pew Bear project started with the Blacks, who saw the idea at a church in North Carolina.
"They came to me with it and I sort of incorporated what they saw at another church and fit it into what we do," Fields said. "This requires consistency; this isn't a one-time visit. These folks are committing."
It's also a way to connect with members of the church in a more personal way.
"Often times those folks are left behind," he said. "Other than our radio ministry they don't have any contact with the church really, so we want to bridge the gap and this is the way that we are doing it."
There are about 60 homebound members of First Baptist that will be visited in this week by their new friends, and Fields said it is a learning experience for young church members.
"But even for my age group 60s, 50s on down," he said. "It's so good to connect to that generation for the wisdom. It's amazing how some of these older folks develop a prayer ministry for some of the younger folks, and I love it when the older people adopt these younger people and develop that relationship."
After Sunday's worship service, volunteers who have already signed up or who want to sign up to give a pew bear will meet for a lunch.
Homebound members will see an active church member at their home this week and will be presented with a cuddly Teddy bear, designed by Pam, adorned with a bow, a vest and a tag on its arm.
The tag on each bear's paw says, "Love bears all things, 1 Corinthians 13:7."
And you don't have to be a member of First Baptist to get a visit by a bear.
"We are not going to exclude anybody who might benefit from a visit," Dave Black said. "We'll take a bear to ‘Miss Jones' and a few weeks later we'll go and check on the bear."