Youth involvement on the rise at Brookland UMC

By Amy Forbus

The Ignite Praise Band of Brooklyn UMC plays during the church's April 8 Wednesday night worship service. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

The Ignite Praise Band of Brooklyn UMC plays during the church’s April 8 Wednesday night worship service.

BROOKLAND, Ark.—Music drifts from the sanctuary of Brookland UMC, where the praise band rehearses with its new horn section. Children and adults move about the fellowship hall as the meal lands on the serving table. The sounds of a basketball game can be heard outside the window of the pastor’s office.

The Rev. Joe Kaiser smiles at all these joyful noises to the Lord, as do the church’s members. Wednesday night activities bring an average attendance of around 55 people of all ages. Children and youth from the neighborhood walk to the church to spend time there after school, and they bring their friends. There’s no budget line item for the meal or programming, but somehow there’s always more than enough.

“The key to our Wednesday night success, I believe, first of all, is not me, and it’s not our lay directors, and it’s not the people in the church, it’s God,” Kaiser said. “It is strictly a God thing. And the kids, when they come here, they know they’re loved.”

Larry Heyl is one of those who shows the love of God through his involvement. Retired from a career in computer science, he’s gone back to Arkansas State University for a second bachelor’s degree—as a music composition major. He writes some of the music for the Ignite Praise Band, which he leads each Wednesday. Open to all ages, it rehearses between 5 and 6 p.m. and shares a song or two during the worship time that follows supper. Some participants are just learning to play an instrument, and others play the same one they play in the school band.

Between supper and worship, attendees break into small groups for 30-minute classes, a relatively new addition to the evening schedule.

“It’s crunched our time a bit, but the kids are really learning,” Kaiser said, noting that they’re currently studying Old Testament stories.

Adults have begun to ask for study opportunities, too. This spring, they worked through “24 Hours that Changed the World” by the Rev. Adam Hamilton.

“We’ve had not just growth in numbers, but also growth in individuals,” said church member Megan Heyl.

Beyond Wednesday nights, they’re seeing some crossover into Sundays and other activities. “We’re building lifetime Methodists,” Kaiser says. Eighteen youth and 11 adults attended Veritas, the Conference-wide youth event held in March.

The trip to Veritas began with Union Grove UMC, the other church in Kaiser’s two-point charge. One youth from there planned to attend. Kaiser knew that others connected with Brookland were interested, but needed financial support to go. He made an appeal to the Union Grove members, asking that they sponsor some of the youth becoming more involved with their sister congregation.

Union Grove stepped up, offering seven sponsorships almost immediately. Likewise, Brookland responded, and in just three hours, the charge had enough money to pay expenses for every youth who wanted to attend Veritas.

Transportation presented the next hurdle, but the ASU Wesley Foundation—where several Brookland members attended and were formed in the faith as college students—loaned its van, as did Cornerstone UMC Jonesboro.

Following their experience at Veritas, more youth now want to help in worship with roles such as reading Scripture or acolyting. Two even stepped up to preach on Youth Sunday.

Kaiser noted that Cherokee Village UMC has provided help for Wednesdays, as well, which shows the United Methodist connection at work.

“It’s been my prayer that the youth know who we are as United Methodists,” he says.

A few months ago, four young men began attending on Wednesday nights. One evening they approached Kaiser about how to become Christians. He explained the process of making a profession of faith, and all four of them wanted to be baptized the following Sunday. This group has since shared with their families and friends the invitation to connect with Brookland UMC.

“This has really blown up in the last six months,” said Billy Whitted, chair of the church’s staff-parish relations committee, who drives 35 miles from home to be a part of Brookland. “We’re chasing our tails trying to keep up with them. We’re just along for the ride.”

VIDEO: watch ‘Brookland UMC: Bless Me Indeed’ (a production of the Arkansas Conference Center for Technology).