By Rebecca Croomes
Paul Dobbs and Aaron Olson worked silently digging holes and planting monkey grass on the north side of Athens Elementary School in the chilly morning light Wednesday.
The two men are members of the non-denominational Epic Church, based in Decatur. The 1,500-member congregation appointed a team to do mission projects in Athens this week in celebration of Holy Week, or ‘Love Week’ as they refer to it.
“We just want to get out … and do things for people in the community, make the community a better place,” Dobbs said.
Starting on Sunday, March 24, Epic members invaded Athens laundromats and dropped change into the coin slots of the unsuspecting customers. On Monday they went to fast food drive-thrus across town and paid for the lunches of whoever was behind them.
‘Love Week’ is an annual event at Epic Church, celebrating the days leading up to Easter by doing community service. Typically the missions are set in Decatur, but the congregation is in the initial phases of opening an Athens campus, so some of the love was spread across the river this year.
Wednesday was “School House Shape-Up,” Dobbs, Olson and others did landscaping work at area schools. Dobbs said a member of Epic put them in touch with AES to replace shrubbery that hadn’t changed in decades.
All the work, Dobbs said, is to invite people to Epic Church and make them feel welcome to worship.
“It’s a very accepting place,” Dobbs said. “It doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what your lifestyle is, what you did last night — you’re welcome.”
And to a man like Elkmont resident Aaron Olson who had become disillusioned by traditional churches, the ‘come as you are’ message sounded refreshing.
“We fell in love with it the first day that we were there, and been there every Sunday since,” he said.
Olson is a member of the worship arts team, he plays guitar in the praise band, and his wife Brittany is a financial assistant at the church. She is also the mother of their 18-month-old daughter, with twins on the way. Epic, he said, fosters the environment in which he wants to raise his children.
“I don’t think I’d do it any other way,” Olson said. “I want them to grow up and have that kind of attitude and mentality themselves — not to exclude people by the way they look, or necessarily by the way they act, but offer them an environment where they feel welcome, so that they can hear the truth.”
Today the group will be showing appreciation to their postal carriers with homemade baked goods and handwritten thank-you notes.
‘Love Week’ will end Saturday with a charity car wash at O’Reilly Auto Parts on U.S. 72 in Athens.
For more information on the opening of Epic Church’s Athens campus, see the spring edition of The News Courier’s Faith and Family magazine, publishing in mid-April.