By Brett Hetherington*
The summer months have long held the promise of adventure for children. School is not in session, parks are open, sports leagues are up and running. But there is still a small void in the life of each child in a community – no matter where that community might be – that can be filled with the love of Christ.
“We want to play games with the kids, feed people, and plant some seeds,” shared Roger Kelly. Credited by many as the driving force behind the Friday Funday ministry of Chandlersville United Methodist Church (Southern Hills District), Kelly has overseen a weekly program that spends two hours each Friday during the summer months committed to showing area children of all ages that the church loves them.
Starting in the summer of 2019 the first year of Friday Funday fed 600 people over the course of 13 weeks. “Last year was really different though, with COVID keeping us from doing any activities. We transitioned to a drive-through outreach and still were able to feed 150 people,” Kelly said. He went on to give a note of credit. “I want to thank our former pastor Gordon Ferguson for motivating us enough to do something like this.”
Each Friday looks a little different from the others. Kids from all around the Chandlersville area are invited, with no sign-up required. The group often ranges from toddlers through pre-teens. The numbers also vary from week to week. There were approximately 50 kids present on July 9 when I attended. The first hour is filled with food, games, and a very laid-back atmosphere.
“We like to mix things up with our menu,” offered Kelly’s wife Candy. “The kids love walking tacos, pizza, nachos … and for some reason they love putting pepperoni and cheese on a bun like a pizza sandwich!” Roger chimed in that hot dogs are not a popular menu item.
Kelly arranges in advance for community organizations to be on hand after meals to spend time with the children in a variety of ways. “The Muskingum County Health Department comes out and they do some games and coloring books, the Muskingum County Literacy Council comes out twice a summer and reads to the kids and lets them pick out a book to take home with them. The Fire Department brings out a fire truck and sprays the kids down with water a couple of times, the Sheriff’s department comes out with a cruiser for the kids to explore. And The Wilds – a conservatory partnership of the Columbus Zoo – comes out once to share a presentation with the kids.”
Jason Warne, serving in his first week as pastor of Chandlersville UMC told me, “I love youth group, and I believe that kids are the future of church. There is a real need down here, and I was thrilled when I got here and heard about all this.”
Chandlersville UMC does not fly solo in its efforts to plant seeds of the Gospel in the hearts of children in their community. The church has been able to partner with several other churches in the area to combine resources, connections, and people. Carol Morrison from Rick Mills Presbyterian Church shared that “Chandlersville (UMC) reached out and said they wanted other churches in the area to get involved. I happen to also work with the Chandlersville Building Association, so I came on board.” This connection allows Friday Fundays to use the Community Building and surrounding property.
Noah Barr, senior pastor of Ark Springs Baptist Church shared that church members were saddened that they were unable to get involved last year through COVID. “We wanted to help, but I am excited to see more communications and working together with churches here.”
The impact of Friday Fundays goes beyond connections with other churches in the Chandlersville area, or even providing meals to families who might be struggling to provide one for themselves. I was able to sit with a woman named Crystal who told me her entire family has been impacted by the ministry that started as an opportunity to give kids something to do on Fridays during the summer.
Crystal‘s family grew by seven when they were granted custody of her nieces and nephews. At that point, the family was not very involved with the church at all. “We might have gone a couple of times here and there, but once people heard that we had so many kids the church really got involved,” she said.
The church assisted Crystal and her family in numerous ways, especially at Christmas time. “This community just came together. To this day we still get people who bring us stuff or send us money in the mail. And people do it as a gift, but I am a person who wants to thank everyone and they … and I know they do it anonymously and out of the goodness of their heart, but I want to tell them how much I appreciate it.”
Each Friday Funday wraps up by sending kids home with their own “goodie bag.” The night before each gathering a group of volunteers from different churches get together to package the bags and get them ready. Inside are a random selection of snacks for the kids to enjoy, and something small to let them know that God loves them. This week included a bookmark with a passage of Scripture to encourage them.
“We are just trying to plant a seed here,” said Kelly. “They’re going to remember that years from now. We didn’t want a whole Bible study with a lesson they had to sit through or get up in their face and make them make a decision. We just wanted to plant a seed.”
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.