Messy Church Helps All Ages Feel the Love of God

Messy Church Helps All Ages Feel the Love of God

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

A young lady plays with some homemade slime during a Messy Church event at Sardis UMC. || Photo Provided by Melinda Shunk

It is the dog days of summer! Vacation Bible School is done. It is not quite time for promotion Sunday. Families seem to be hit and miss on Sunday due to traveling for summer vacation. Travel teams are finishing up those last summer games. Kids are at Tanako for a week of camp! What does a Children’s Minister do to reach out to those that may never come to church or know that one even exists in their neighborhood?

Well, I’ll tell you what an eight-year veteran of Children’s Ministry like Jessica Butler of Sardis United Methodist Church would do: she gets messy!

Two years ago, Jessica came across the book Messy Church by Lucy Moore and Jane Ledbetter. Messy Church is a combination of a lot of things you may already have and do at your church, but it is combined to become a multigenerational outreach blend of fun, shared experience, worship and food into one unique time of day. See, I told you it was everything you already do in ministry, just blended together!

Jessica made a fun social media graphic called Mess-tival. She blasted it around town as well as went old school and put some posters in community establishments. She made sure to have members she knew would be at the event share the Mess-tival invite publicly for all who may want to join in the fun.

Then with the help of Karen Guinn, they dug out tables and old supplies from every event they had over the last year. They set up a slime station, a tinkering station, water play station, and a few more tables all staffed with youth helpers. Overall the supplies cost little to nothing, but she did purchase plastic table cloths when she set the tables up outside to help with easy clean-up at the end.

On a hot July evening, Jessica welcomed in a few faces she knew and a lot of new faces from the community. Parents didn’t think of dropping off their kids as they did for VBS or Sunday school. Parents and grandparents knew it was a time for all of them to have Messy Church.

As families arrived, they were offered snacks and drinks at tables together. Once she gave them 20-30 minutes to all arrive and have a snack, she shared a short lesson. She shared that life can be messy. Sometimes messy means bad and sometimes messy can be good. No matter what Jesus loves messy people!

In fact, Jesus loves to take messy people and make something beautiful from the mess. She then shared some scripture and closed in prayer. From there, she walked them to the tables set up outside for the families to go make a mess. Parents and grandparents shared experiences with the children as they moved around to each table set up for their mess.

The casual, light-hearted environment gave way to conversation. Jessica was able to move around to the different groups to have caring conversations. One family said they never go to church but they could get into this kind of church! Some grandparents shared that they had their grandchildren for the week and thought this was something they could all do together when they saw the Mess-tival invite. Church members who were used to dropping off their kids for events asked when the next Mess-tival would be held.

As of now, this was Jessica’s second Mess-tival. She had thought of it as a supplemental outreach for those slower times in the church schedule. However, she says due to its success, she would love to start doing more for her community. Messy Church helps all ages hear God’s words of love and literally feel God’s love through each other as they have a messy experience together.

Messy Church is a great way to do something different at your church, and get both parents and children involved. || Photos Provided by Melinda Shunk

Searcy FUMC has bus for sale

UPDATE 09-03-2019: This bus has been sold.

Searcy First United Methodist Church is selling their church bus, a 2004 Ford E-450. For more information, click here.

Thank you for your support of LPI

Thank you to all who participated in the Lydia Patterson Institute offering earlier this summer. The students in El Paso, TX need our support and love offering now more than ever. Matched dollars from the UMFA will help build a campus chapel that will be utilized by students at this United Methodist school every day.

If your church family or group would be interested in hosting a Lydia Patterson Institute event and would like conference support through speakers, videos and print materials, please contact us at communications@arumc.org. We would love to provide assistance to garner support for this valuable ministry.

Four Churches Join Forces, Provide a Home for the Homeless

Four Churches Join Forces, Provide a Home for the Homeless

By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

About two years ago, four United Methodist churches in Rogers — Central UMC, First UMC, Oakley Chapel UMC and Grace UMC — came together to find the biggest needs not just in Rogers, but Benton County. The Rev. Les Oliver said the Methodist churches, along with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Rogers, came to recognize that teen and young adult homelessness was a major issue in their community that no one was addressing.

“Eighteen-year-olds were aging out of the foster care center or were kicked out of their parent’s homes and living in cars,” Oliver said. “It really touched our hearts. About a year ago, we started doing fundraisers and different things to try to figure out the best way to have a home for homeless young adults and teenagers in the area.”

Oliver is the minister of Missions at Central United Methodist of Rogers, and he said the three other churches decided to model their new home after Christopher’s House in Springdale. Christopher’s House is a partnership between First United Methodist Church Springdale and Teen Action Support Center, or TASC, to provide a home for families needing transitional housing, according to the website at firstchurchspringdale.org.

Oliver said at first, the group struggled to find the money to purchase a house. They tried having bake sales and other similar fundraisers, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until an anonymous donor wanted to purchase the house that they really got started.

“They wanted information on what we were trying to do, and this person came to me and I told them, ‘Why don’t you come to our monthly meeting?’” Oliver said. “After the meeting, he said he wanted to buy a house for the ministry.”

Oliver said the name of the house, the Tapestry Home, refers to the weaving together of the churches and the community, with the goal of ending young adult homelessness.

Tapestry Home, located in Rogers, Arkansas, provides a shelter for homeless teens and young adults in the Northwest Arkansas area. The home is a partnership between Central UMC Rogers, First UMC Rogers, Oakley Chapel UMC, Grace UMC Rogers, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Rogers.
|| Photo Provided by Tapestry Home

“We looked at several houses here in the Rogers area and we looked at a brand new house that served as a model home in a subdivision,” Oliver said. “We met with the builders and they said that was the way to go – to start fresh and clean out a brand new home.”

Oliver said the mission group closed on the house on July 23 and had an open house on July 28. TASC is in the process of finding suitable clients that will move in shortly after the open house. Oliver said the family unit will most likely feature a young couple with children or older siblings with little siblings. He said, at this point, he has no idea who the clients would be, but they will stay there for 18 to 24 months.

He said another church member donated $8,000 to Tapestry Home to do with as they please, so the group purchased a refrigerator, washer and dryer. He said they also bought a couch and chair for the living room.

“We also have a ton of stuff that has been donated,” Oliver said. “We are just getting a ton of free stuff from different vendors and a ladies’ sorority has taken on the kitchen, purchasing pots, pans, silverware, and small appliances.

“We have had different community support in helping to furnish the house in different ways. Just tons and tons of people making new friends and five churches working together. That has been a blessing beyond measurement.”

Dawn Spragg is an ordained deacon at Central United Methodist Church and is also a co-founder of TASC. The non-profit focuses on teen homelessness in Northwest Arkansas.

“When the collective group made the decision to purchase the home, we talked to them about the numbers and teen homelessness in the community,” Spragg said. “We discussed the relationship that we have with Springdale FUMC and it currently features a teen family with a mom, dad and an infant.

“That’s the model that we looked at and what we needed in our community. We had a donor willing to purchase the home and place young adults and teens in housing with the Tapestry Home.”

Spragg said she and her husband founded the non-profit 15 years ago. She said has been on staff at the church as one of the pastors for 12 years, including serving as the youth pastor for two years.

“Teenagers have always been the place I felt God calling me to serve,” she said. “There weren’t a lot of support services for teens in our community. So we founded TASC, and I have been working with them either part or full-time since we opened.

“I work with families and teens, providing mental health.”
Last year, TASC worked with 64 teens who were housing unstable. Either their families were homeless, or they lost a parent and didn’t have someone to live with.

“There are 2,000 children who are considered homeless and I don’t know how many of those are teens,” Spragg said. “That’s the most recent number, and it doesn’t include children living with friends, or what we call ‘couch surfers.’”

Spragg said the city of Rogers doesn’t have a lot of low-cost housing.

“We have a lot of working poor,” she said.

Volunteers survey the work that has been done so far to the Tapestry Home. The home shad an open house on July 28 and should be accepting its first residents soon. || Photo Provided by Tapestry Home

“They are earning minimum wage, and then a family has a death or divorce and the economic stabilization is cut in half,” she said.

“It creates an environment where they can’t afford housing or transportation, that kind of thing.

“It causes a lot of instability in housing and they suffer struggles in the family, including trauma, mental health or substance use – those are some of the key factors.”

She said Oliver and the Micah 6:8 ministry reached out to several agencies and several people in the church community to see what some of the needs were in the area.

“And then they landed on this one,” she said. “We have a partnership and we do the casework for the family in the home, and make sure they are following the guidelines of being in the home and have the resources and education they need.

“My agency makes sure all of that gets managed and Micah 6:8 makes sure the house is in order. We work with the family that is in there and they have volunteers to help them.”

Oliver said some of the guidelines for the residents include employment and paying a small stipend each month as if it were their rent. The money the leases pay towards the stipend will be put into a savings account and will be given back once the family moves out.

“They are also responsible for cleaning the house and making sure the house is left nice,” he said. “We are going to teach them how to balance a checkbook and simple maintenance, and parenting skills and counseling if they need it.

“Mostly, everything in life that so many of us take for granted. In the end, the four United Methodist Churches in Rogers, plus Andrew’s Episcopal, jumped into this and do whatever we can to answer the need of homelessness in Benton County for young adults.”

Spragg said the family has to be able to live on their own and cannot invite other people to live with them. She said they have to participate in the education and casework and TASC sets that up when they set the agreement. She expects the family to be moved in within 30 days of the closing.

The plan, and the hope, is by the end of the two years, the family has learned the skills needed to step out and be on their own as young adults.

“It is not likely that we would renew an agreement after the period of time, but the goal is to train these young adults or whoever goes in, to be self-sufficient and learn skills needed.”

Oliver said the small stipend will probably be no more than $300 and will give the lessees the impression that they are paying for living expenses and rent for the house.

“When they get to the end of their lease, they will have the money to help with deposits, that sort of thing, when they get out on their own,” he said. “We don’t keep any of their money.”

Only one family will be living in the house at a time.

“For example, the first family that went into Christopher’s House was two young kids, under the age of 20, with two children,”

Oliver said. “So let’s say, a 25-year-old, an 18, 19, and 20-year-old siblings have no place to live, this will give them some sort of family unit.”

Oliver said the long term goal is to, first of all, create enough enthusiasm to have the funding along the way, which includes earning grants, HUD money and other donations.

“This first model will serve as a catalyst,” Oliver said. “And if we see the success that we have this first home, hopefully, we can buy a second home or a third home. Ultimately, our goal is to have as many as we think we can manage.”

The Shoe That Grows
Kids at First UMC Bentonville Raise Thousands for New Shoes, Heifer, Rice Bowls

The Shoe That Grows is shoe with five buckles that can be expanded as the person’s foot gets larger, making it last for years.
|| Photo Provided by First UMC Bentonville

By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

Three years ago, Sadie Stratton Wohlfahrt, the Minister to Children and Families at First United Methodist Church in downtown Bentonville, began writing her own Vacation Bible School curriculum.

“I felt strongly that we could use this huge momentum of the biggest event of the children’s ministry year, to really make an impact in the world,” Wohlfahrt said. “Rather than playing games that are only loosely related to a theme, and making crafts that end up on the floor of the car or in the trash – I thought we could spend the same amount of time, energy and money, being in the service to our neighbors.

“In the process, VBS participants learn about what mission means, and about the needs of their neighbors near and far.”

The goal for the participants is to understand faith in action, Wohlfahrt said.

“They will know we are disciples by our love and learn about the kinds of needs that kids their age have across the world; things that we might take for granted like food, clean water, shoes that fit, an education, medication and a safe place to sleep,” she said. “The goal for our beneficiaries was that they would have a sign of God’s love through the gifts we provided.”

This year, Wohlfahrt and First UMC Bentonville’s VBS partnered with The Shoe That Grows, Heifer International and RiceBowls.org. She said they raised enough money for 60 pairs of shoes — equivalent to about $1,200.

One of the elementary groups at First UMC Bentonville that helped raise money for various charities.
|| Photo Provided by First UMC Bentonville

“Our own youth group will be taking these shoes on their next mission trip to Haiti later this year,” Wohlfahrt said. “So we will get lots of pictures of our actual donations being given. We also raised $1,100 for Heifer International and $1,213 for RiceBowls.org as well.”

For the Heifer International fundraiser, she said the kids painted cows on canvas which were then sold to their families and to the church for $5 each. That money was donated to provide heifers and chickens for families in needs.

“The kids learned about the benefit of the gift of an animal and the amazing work that Heifer International does,” Wohlfahrt said. “The kids also collected loose change in little plastic ‘rice bowls’ to provide meals for orphans in India.

“They learned about Indian culture and about what it means to be an orphan and to be a caretaker. We also worked with Meals on Wheels of Benton County, and our middle school group went on a full route one morning, delivering meals. That was very impactful for them.”

Elizabeth Emis is a children’s minister teacher at FUMC Bentonville, under the direction of Wohlfahrt.

“These kids will actually see the fruits of their labor and it really cements what Jesus was going for in the first place,” Emis said.

“We are looking at the face of someone and responding to that – it was really special.”

Emis said the church’s VBS program is very different than most in the state as they are pretty mission-minded.

“We stress that, no matter how old you are, you can find a place to offer grace throughout the day,” Emis said. “You don’t have to go overseas or get on a plane. You can be as young as a first grader and find a way to help someone.

“The Shoe That Grows ministry is one of the organizations that we partnered with this year, and in doing so, as a station leader, I was in charge of the learning projects and why this mission exists and in what ways it seeks to serve others and put others before ourselves the same way Jesus did.”

Emis said they had a video that showed a husband and wife couple from Haiti that had their own kids but were also fostering and seeking to adopt other children in their neighborhood. She said the area they lived in didn’t have sewer systems and so all the rain would run off into their homes.

“In order to negate the problems that came with it, you needed good shoes, but it is very difficult to purchase that many shoes,” Emis said. “You can pass shoes down from one sibling to the next, but it is not always the best way to go about it because every foot is different.

“So it was costing a ton of money and had become really problematic. This shoe, given by the mission, grows five sizes and it expands through buttons and snaps and can also be wider. They can also wear them with or without socks.”

Wohlfahrt said the mission work that the VBS programs do is important because she wants children, both in the church and the community, to understand the meaning of mission and service. This year’s VBS had more than 200 children in attendance.

“It is important to me that kids growing up in the church understand that being in the church means working hard, not just receiving,” she said. “We give and work hard. We tend to entertain kids throughout their time in children’s ministries, and then when they get to be adults, they are disillusioned and disappointed by a church that all of a sudden needs them to work.”

“My personal opinion is that we live in such a segmented society, and for various reasons, it can be really easy to feel pressure or feel persecuted, and feel as though things are super hard. And they may be,” Emis said. “But it’s important to have the understanding that there are other people who clearly have a need no one is addressing. They seem to have it all together, but only when you get to know them do you realize they do not.

“We get to see what Christ has been asking us to do for ages. The world really tries to segment people into ‘what’s like me’ and ‘everything that’s not.’ If it is like me, it is correct and just, and nothing to be afraid of. If it is not like me, it might not be fair and might be something to be afraid of.”

A sample of the “cow art” which was sold to benefit Heifer International. || Photo Provided by First UMC Bentonville

She said only when you begin to read scripture can you bridge that gap.

“God’s true kingdom was never intended to be as separate as it is now. And with these children, it is easier to teach it to them than adults, because they have a natural aptitude for it … They don’t know any different unless it is taught.”

Maribel Vizcarra is the director of communications for FUMC Bentonville and she said her two kids, Sebastian, 9, and Juliette, 6, absolutely loved participating in the mission work.

“I have to admit, I was surprised by how much they had absorbed after only a few short hours at VBS,” Vizcarra said. “They eagerly emptied their piggy banks onto their beds to help.”

She said leveraging innovation to fight poverty is crucial and “teaching our children to think outside the box, to find meaningful and impactful ways to help others is one way to define us as a missions station church.”

“Our goal at FUMC Bentonville is to give kids hands-on opportunities for mission work so they can become messengers for Christ,” she said. “Children are natural helpers. It is up to us adults to foster love and empathy in them toward others.

“We sincerely believe involving children in missions through our church has a direct impact on how active they’ll remain as adults.”

Wohlfahrt has been the children’s minister at FUMC Bentonville for five years and has been writing her own VBS curriculum for the past three.

“Each year, I choose 2-3 global partners, so that the kids can learn about needs that kids have around the world,” she said. “Last year, we learned about kids who don’t have access to clean water and raised money for FilterofHope.org to provide water filters to those who need them. We also learned about the risk of malaria, and the importance of mosquito nets for many children – we raised money for those nets through SweetSleep.org.
“Mission Voyage is just the name I came up for this year’s VBS. Our first year, was ‘Mighty Missions’ which had a superhero theme, and last year was ‘Mission Station,’ which had a train theme.”

Wohlfahrt said since she writes all the curriculum, she gets to come up with the themes, and the scripture outline. And one of the church members, who is a graphic designer, designs all of the logos and décor.

“We want the kids to seek out places where you can be of service and do service for Him,” Emis said. “We want to receive just as much as you give, and build a relationship with anything else that you’ve encountered.

“Children already see uniqueness around them, but what we want to drive home is that uniqueness doesn’t mean scary or wrong.

“That’s going to foster a completely different sense of adult leadership.”

Next year’s VBS theme will be “Mission Olympics” and will be held the third week in July.

“Mrs. Wohlfahrt has a heart for Children’s Ministry,” Vizcarra said. “Through her work and the work of her volunteers and staff, she has laid the foundation of spiritual development for our kids through an engaging, hands-on, mission-focused VBS.

“She’s passionate, loving, strategic and, most importantly, has a strong relationship with Jesus Christ. She deeply yearns to share her love for Christ with others.”