While thousands of bargain hunters hit the stores for Black Friday deals, several churches are choosing to start the Christmas season with "Bless Friday" by giving back to the community.
And these churches are hoping to get their message across to Americans. "People get our message that when we focus too much on buying things, we lose sight of the real reason for Christmas – remembering and honoring Christ," said Chuck Fox, founder of Bless Friday, in a statement. "We want to begin our Christmas celebration by serving others just as Jesus did."
Fox launched Bless Friday in 2010 after hearing a sermon on how Americans are losing sight of the real reason for Christmas.
The message of Bless Friday in a nutshell: It’s a day for service not shopping.
"On the day after Thanksgiving, millions of people started their Christmas celebration at malls and other retail outlets," the website for Bless Friday states. "This can’t be the way that God intends Christians to prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Savior of the World. And what begins poorly also ends poorly."
According to the National Retail Federation, up to 152 million people plan to shop Black Friday weekend, up from the 138 million people who planned to do so last year.
Fox stressed the need to start the Christmas celebration "in a more loving and appropriate manner." He is hoping to spread the word to get more churches involved and more service opportunities scheduled.
Beacon of Light Christian Center in South Houston is participating by offering food and clothing to those in need and hosting activities for the wider community.
"Our community is filled with people who financially overextend themselves at Christmas. We want to show them a more positive and more spiritual way to celebrate," Pastor Anthony Gasery said in a statement.
Congregants from Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston have been encouraged to volunteer at local ministries, fix up a hurricane-damaged home or simply share a meal with neighbors.
"BLESS is not a program," the church says. "Rather, it is a series of practices that we believe will help us live a complete and balanced life in Christ."
Other churches in the Houston and Galveston area joining the Bless Friday movement include St. Luke's United Methodist Church, St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, Moody Memorial First United Methodist Church, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Fair Haven UMC and Mission Milby.