written by Kelli Reep
The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is still being sifted, but the good things that have happened include a re-energization of City Heights United Methodist Church in Van Buren.
According to Rev. Sandy DeFatta, senior pastor of City Heights United Methodist Church, the children and youth program was happening when she arrived in 2019, but on a much smaller scale. Today, the church welcomes between 30-35 children, who are in elementary school, and youth, who are in middle and high schools, every Wednesday evening. The church offers those attending a hot meal cooked by volunteer church members, games, a Bible study for the older kids, and a bible lesson for the younger children.
“Renee Henson and her husband, Mike, actually got this going,” Rev. DeFatta said. “They are long-time members of our church, and Renee is an assistant principal at Oliver Springs Elementary. She approaches parents and caregivers and asks if they think their kids might be interested in attending on Wednesday evenings. The Hensons have always worked with children, and once we could open again fully after the pandemic, the Wednesday meetings have grown. The kids invite their friends, and what we have found is that, for those who maybe aren’t into sports, this is a good activity for them.”
The church has noticed that, because of children and their siblings attending on Wednesday nights, some of their parents are coming to Sunday worship.
“Right now, we have anywhere from 45 to 50 or so that come on Sunday mornings, and it’s mostly older adults, but we do have some of the parents of the children that come on Wednesday night,” Rev. DeFatta said. “Because we are mostly older, we just don’t have that energy level to really work with the kids anymore, but our older members are very supportive financially, and they come and provide meals. It has really been eye opening to me and I think some of the other adults as well at just how hungry some of the kids are physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. We always have an abundance of food so some of the children will take food home with them at the end of Wednesday evenings. Maybe they share it with their families or save it for breakfast or lunch the next day. We have one little girl whose grandfather has all kinds of health problems, but she makes sure that she takes him something to eat each week.”
The children also contribute to others in the church as well as in the community.
“What blows you away is how much they want to give, how much they do care,” Rev. DeFatta said. “We have a blessing box, a little food pantry on our grounds, and the kids are just almost fighting over who gets to put stuff in it. They bring shelf-stable food we put out a few times a week. We also ask the kids to help us with projects that help the older adults in our church and community. We do a youth rummage sale in the fall, and the kids have all come worked and help set up. They mark prices on things and help people carry stuff to their car. We also ask them to help us with projects for older adults in our church and community like tidy yards. They can pull weeds, rake, pick up trash. All these things help them earn points for other activities like mission trips or some of the fun outings Renee has planned. They put in sweat equity, if you’d like.”
Rev. DeFatta said at least seven children from the Wednesday evening program and their parents have begun attending worship on Sundays. She attributes this to their understanding that City Heights United Methodist Church truly cares about them and their well-being.
“We hope they see that this church is being supportive of not just their child, but that we care about them as well. We want to reach out to the whole family, not just to their children. I do see more kids coming, and we are asking ourselves, ‘How can we expand this, keep it going and reach more kids and youth? How can we let them know we are a safe space?’”
For more information about City Heights United Methodist Church, its Wednesday evening children and youth program, or how to contribute financially or through service, contact Rev. DeFatta at VSDeFatta@GMail.com.