Mall ministry celebrates 10 years of helping others

Published: May 15, 2008 | 7033rd good news item since 2003

For the past 10 years, thousands of people have sought information, assistance and spiritual guidance at an unlikely location: a shopping mall.

The Burlington Center Mall Ministry, which operates in a storefront next to Sears at the Burlington Center Mall, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

“We are trying to be a positive force in the community, because we think that is what Jesus would do,” said Elsie Nicolette, the ministry’s executive director.

Nicolette said the nonprofit ministry is unlike a traditional church because it does not offer Sunday services and it does not preach to its visitors. She said the ministry reaches out to those who might be reluctant to go to church or who are curious about Christianity.

“We are here to help each person move on in their walk with God,” she said.

That approach seems to work. In the past 10 years, 39,500 people have visited the ministry seeking conversation, and 31,100 have attended support programs or events at the ministry, Nicolette said.

The ministry will celebrate its anniversary Saturday with a music fest. Bands from several churches will perform at the entrance to the ministry from noon to 6 p.m., and children will be invited to make crafts.

Nicolette said the idea for the ministry began when the Rev. Phil Olsen, minister of missions at the First Presbyterian Church in Mount Holly, looked for ways to reach people who do not normally attend church.

“The impetus behind (the ministry) was to reach out and be in a public place,” she said.

Several churches of different denominations came together to start the ministry. In June 1998, they rented the 2,450-square-foot storefront in the mall. The space includes a large common room with a ping-pong table and a small kitchen as well as a prayer room that has religious literature, music and videos. The prayer room has a magnetic poetry wall and a poetry log, where guests can express their thoughts.

Mansfield resident Kelly Steele, a member of the New Life Fellowship in Bordentown Township, said she began volunteering at the ministry six years ago.

“I literally was walking through the mall and was drawn to volunteer here,” Steele said. “I signed up, and that was that. I’ve been here ever since.”

Steele said many people visit the ministry because they want to talk or they need help finding shelter, food or refuge from abuse. She said the ministry’s volunteers are there to listen and provide assistance. They don’t push their faith on the visitors.

“Wherever they are is where we try to meet them,” Steele said. “We are not here to push or offend. We are here to embrace.”

The ministry has 15 partner churches of varying denominations that provide volunteers, prayer and donations to pay for the rental space in the mall. The ministry has expanded its services, and now offers a fellowship for the deaf, knitting classes and computer training, in addition to its Bible study, support groups and teen activities.

Nicolette said the ministry provides literature in 27 different languages.

“What is exciting about the mall ministry is that it attracts different denominations and ethnicities,” she said. “We learn about each other and grow from the process.”

Published in Faith
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