It may seem unusual for a church to ask people to bring their trash to a Sunday service. But that’s exactly what Sunrise Community Christian Reformed Church in Austin, Tex., has been doing on the last Sunday of December for the past five years.
The church’s pastor, Mark Hilbelink, helped develop the idea. “The concept of Throw-Away Sunday is a confession-based service [encouraging us] to leave things in the old year,” he explained. “Everyone brings their Christmas ‘trash’ to church with them—wrapping paper, bows, and boxes , , , so that at the end of the message we can write down confessions and throw them away.” The sanctuary is lined with a number of trash receptacles to hold all the garbage.
The church also offers four “confession booths” where current or former elders or pastors are available to listen and pray with church members who want to talk to someone in person.
Sara Sythoff is an elder at Sunrise who acted as a confession hearer this year. “So often our new year resolutions are very trite,” she said, “but the holidays can be very hard for people who are grieving or dealing with family issues. A lot of these problems are out of our control or things we can’t resolve ourselves. Giving these issues over to God is a very valuable experience.”
The first few years of Throw-Away Sunday included watching part of an episode of the TV show “Hoarders” to demonstrate how people often hold onto too much emotional baggage.
A church member who was going through a difficult family situation several years ago shared his experience with Throw-Away Sunday. “I received a warm, grace-filled welcome at Sunrise CRC, which I know was God's provision. My confession hearer, at the end of that year, was also warm and accepting, and has become one of my best Christian brothers.”