By Kara Witherow, Editor
Hundreds of semi-trailer trucks drive past Port Wentworth United Methodist Church each day. They’re loud, they rattle the church windows, and the exhaust fills the air.
The truckers’ presence is impossible to miss, church members and staff say.
“We hear the clanging and banging of the trucks all day long and sometimes even on Sunday mornings during the church services,” said church secretary Laura Weatherford.
But instead of being frustrated, the Port Wentworth UMC congregation is embracing tractor-trailer drivers by inviting them to worship services, thanking them for the important job they do, and encouraging them with uplifting signs.
There are 1.7 million semi-truck drivers in the United States. But it’s a lonely, isolating job – truckers, sitting high up in their cabs, are rarely seen by most Americans and only stop when they have to – and many can fall victim to temptations and vices.
Port Wentworth UMC wants truck drivers to know that they are seen and appreciated, though, and the congregation is using the highly visible church sign – which sits on the front lawn near a speed bump – to show its support.
“Roll on truckers. We are praying for y’all,” read one sign. “Truck drivers: Jesus is your partner for the long haul,” read another.
Located in downtown Port Wentworth, the church sits just down the street from the busy Port of Savannah. Established more than 100 years ago for the area’s ship builders, the congregation is returning to its blue-collar roots, says Rev. Gary Boyles.
Rev. Boyles has visited area truck stops and auto-part stores to meet with truck drivers and regularly gets calls from them. Some are curious, others are skeptical, and a few have asked him to start a Bible study they can join. He meets, talks, and prays with them often. Two have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
“They have the same concerns and needs as everyone else,” Rev. Boyles said, except that truck drivers do feel people’s contempt. “We just want them to know that we are on their side.”
Rev. Boyles said that he felt the Lord leading the congregation to reach out to truck drivers after a revival preacher challenged them to think about and minister to people in the community others weren’t noticing.
Most of the drivers live nearby but not in Port Wentworth itself. Ray lives in Statesboro but drives past the church each Monday morning as Weatherford installs the week’s sign. He stops to read the sign, talk to her, and give her a hug. Weatherford and Rev. Boyles pray that Ray will soon show up on Sunday morning, too.
“We want to let them know that not everybody is against them and that we are praying for their safety just as we pray for our first responders and our military,” Weatherford said. “Without truckers we don’t have stocked grocery stores, we don’t have clothes, we don’t have any of our needs. They haul everything for us and we need to thank them.”
On Tuesday, July 31 the congregation will be thanking the drivers with a tangible gift with their inaugural “Snacks at the Speedbump” event. Several church members, youth, and children will hand out bags of snacks and bottles of water when the drivers slow down to go over the speedbump. The bags will also include Rev. Boyles' business card and info about the church. It’s just another way for the congregation to say thank you to the drivers who serve the community each and every day, Weatherford said.
“It makes sense; they drive right by our houses – literally – and by our church, and we see them all the time, and we want to wave and smile at them as opposed to honk our horns and make them feel unwanted,” she said. “We want to let them know that we appreciate them.”