(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn)
As millions of Americans go to the stores for frenzied shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, a group of Texas churches have sought to provide an alternative.
"Bless Friday," a time away from the shopping centers and the seasonal sales, involves congregations organizing community service projects for Black Friday, with the hopes of someday making such volunteer work the norm.
Chuck Fox, the founder of Bless Friday, said in a statement posted on the event's website that he was pleased with the churches opting to become involved.
"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. We want to begin our Christmas celebration by serving others just as Jesus did," said Fox.
Myree Francis, director of finance for Beacon of Light Christian Center, which is participating in the event, told The Christian Post that this was her church's third year participating. "After meeting with the founder of Bless Friday, Charles Fox, our pastor decided that this was a worthy cause to support," said Francis.
An annual observance, Bless Friday began in 2010 and was inspired by a sermon preached at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Houston on the Sunday following Thanksgiving 2009.
"Chuck Fox, who takes his father to mass there each Sunday night, heard the sermon about how we in the United States are losing sight of why we celebrate Christmas. Chuck was convicted by the message and decided to help change the culture," reads the "History" section of the Bless Friday website.
"That week he went back to his home church, Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, talked with his pastor, Dave Peterson, and organized some service opportunities for the next year, 2010."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Fox talked about the contrasts between this year's Bless Friday and past observances, including how the effort is now stretching beyond the Lone Star state.
"We have more churches this year and in three cities: Houston, Texas; The Woodlands, Texas; and Seattle, Wash. Denominations include Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, and Catholic," said Fox.
"We have more types of activities from working in food pantries, to doing maintenance in Women's and Children's Center to cleaning up city parks."
Congregations officially on board for Bless Friday include Beacon of Light Trinity Church and St. Luke's United Methodist Church.
Occurring the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a time known for its large scale shopping, driven in part because of the many sales stores offer. The occasion has been increasingly criticized as being a horrid example of commercialism run amok, with violence known to follow the shopping sprees. As such, many entities have sought to provide alternatives to the shopping mania, be it stores extending their sales into the following week or nonprofits organizing philanthropic events.
USA Today reports that this year's Black Friday might be "less frenetic" than previous years, where the occasional shopper has died as a result of their injuries.
"Black Friday, with its long lines, traditional pushing and shoving, and discount deals, is off and running, but it seems a little less frenetic this year as many shoppers got a jump on bargain-hunting at retailers that opened Thanksgiving evening," reports USA Today.
"Still, there was plenty of jostling going on among the first wave of an estimated 140 million people who will shop during the four-day holiday weekend."
"Our country has a great capacity to regenerate itself," said Fox to CP. "My hope is for us to begin our Christian celebration with service. Then we will place our focus on Christ and everything else will fall into place."