The Christian Science Monitor

Pray and wash: Finding church in unexpected places

When Julie Butcher goes to church, she looks forward to giving thanks to God, lending a supportive hand, breaking bread with friends – and helping people wash a tub of clothes. 

“The laundromat is my church,” says Ms. Butcher, an Episcopal Church deacon, as children play and washers churn at Suds Up here in this city one hour west of Boston. “There’s no judgment. People come here and they’re welcomed and loved. It doesn’t matter what they look like or what their life is like.”

Butcher’s church happens here inside a noisy, family-owned laundromat that transforms once a month into something more akin to the kingdom of God. When it does, blessed are those overwhelmed by heaps of smelly socks and soiled T-shirts. Anyone who doesn’t have access to laundry facilities  at home gets an opportunity to wash, dry, and fold them here free of charge. 

Funded by area churches and other organizations, the monthly gathering is called Laundry Love. It has no formal worship service nor preplanned Bible talk. In fact, any visible signs of church are subtle enough to miss, except for the four women in clergy collars who on this day are keeping things running smoothly by shepherding kids and watching jeans tumble in front-load washers.

The lack of church packaging is by design. The idea is that having people gather around a practical project in an informal setting embodies the Gospel in a way that’s comfortable, especially at a time when secularism is on the rise and many Americans remain leery of organized religion. 

“Whether they recognize it or not, they are growing in [their] relationship with God,” says Meredyth Ward, the Episcopal priest who started Worcester’s Laundry Love and is called “pastora” by her informal flock. “When they offer prayers themselves, they are claiming an identity in Christ. It doesn’t look like normal church. Some of them may never walk

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