The target was 500 volunteers, though Jacob expected a turnout more like 300. On the day, June 21, a thousand people showed up—a third of the church. The high-energy volunteers painted, landscaped, and cleaned inside and out, making a rundown school shine. Principal Deborah Peterson says that summer-school students kept running up to her and saying, " 'Miss Peterson, we are so lucky! Why do you think they are doing this for us?' It was like they had won the lottery." One teacher said she had been at Roosevelt for 17 years, and no one had ever cleaned her windows.
Walls between church and school vanished, Summer says. "They want to do it again. They love it!" Over the summer two more workdays took place. Other city schools have begun to inquire whether SouthLake could help them, too. Nike has jumped into plans to refurbish Roosevelt's athletic facilities.
Altogether, churches participated in 278 projects over the Greater Portland area. Sixty-two public schools received 5,100 volunteers for school cleanup days. Two hundred churches participated in Compassion Clinics, free one-day medical and dental clinics that also offered free lunches and some social services. Working under the leadership of Compassion Connect, a local nonprofit, 1,155 volunteers provided free medical or dental care to 1,846 people and fed 2,300.
Pastor John Bishop of Living Hope Church parked a semitrailer on church property and challenged his congregation to fill it. "I told them, 'I'm not asking you to go to Costco and buy the food. I want you to knock on your neighbors' doors.' " The trailer load—45,000 pounds of food—went to local food banks.
Portland is matching 1,200 homeless women and their children with mentors supplied by 78 area churches. The city supplies the first and last months' rent, along with training and coordination for the volunteers.
It wasn't just churches. Wells Fargo Bank set a goal of 10,000 employee volunteer hours donated to the community. In 2009, it plans to double that as part of the annual Season of Service.
Tom Krattenmaker, associate vice president at Lewis & Clark College and a self-defined religious progressive, speaks enthusiastically about the Palau Association's openness. "They have been stereotype busters," he says. A regular contributor to USA Today, Krattenmaker has chastised progressives and secularists for their close-mindedness on religion. He says, "I see the desire to reach out and connect stronger on the evangelical side of the equation" than among his progressive colleagues. Asked about unabashed preaching at the festival, he says, "I think people need to put up with a little discomfort and allow evangelicals to talk about Jesus, because it's important for the free expression of their faith."
The CityFest initiative came from Christian leaders, but Portland civic leaders showed remarkable willingness to embrace it. Perhaps most interesting was the collaboration over abortion. Planned Parenthood is normally one of the agencies offering services at the city's Homeless Connect events. The city quietly agreed to leave it out for the festival; Palau in turn chose not to include anti-abortion advocacy. Some pro-life advocates were angry that their cause was not included in the festival, says Kevin Palau, but staffer Alan Hotchkiss explains, "We want to draw a circle around Jesus Christ. We don't want to distract from that."