SPRINGFIELD — Helping students, Janet Hill believes, is University Heights Baptist Church's "door to the world" and an opportunity to be a strong part of its Springfield neighborhood, both at the elementary and college levels.
The congregation has been involved with Rountree Elementary School, just across the street from the church, longer than any current member can remember through Springfield school district's Partners in Education program.
Each year, the church and school discuss what teachers and children need and determine how the two can most effectively partner to meet those needs. The congregation has done everything from clearing the grounds to painting halls to providing volunteers to assist in classrooms or with specific projects, Hill, UHBC minister to families, explained. Members also volunteer to be prayer partners with teachers who want one.
University Heights hosts Rountree Roundup each fall as a fundraiser. The school names a specific need that money raised will benefit. Since 2006, the church has raised $17,514 for various projects, including technology and playground equipment.
The congregation works through a local Barnes & Noble outlet for an annual book fair. During a specific timeframe, a percentage of designated purchases is donated to Rountree in products.
Classes and groups at the church also develop partnerships with school classes and specific teachers to help meet needs, with volunteers or funding. The church tries to meet any benevolent need that also arises during the school year.
"The school is comfortable turning to us to provide that need" for individual children or families, Hill said.
Because of the longstanding relationship and because church staff and members have not been pushy with their faith, principals and leaders at Rountree have called on Hill to minister in other situations.
When two children were hit by a car, the principal asked Hill to help one family at one emergency room, while he worked with the other family at a different ER. The church also responded with food baskets and other items at both waiting rooms.
UHBC provides a Parents' Night Out, as well. "We believe a stronger family is better for children," Hill explained. The quarterly event allows parents the opportunity to have one-on-one time, she added.
University Heights members have been involved with Missouri State University for as long as the church has existed. Hill believes the affinity for college ministry began naturally — the church formed and began meeting in the chapel at Drury University. Members deliberately chose to build at the corner of National and Grand streets across from campus to be a part of the MSU community, she added.
The church has supported the MSU band for several years, providing a special worship service during band camp and meals during marching season. It also has enjoyed "official" status as a ministry on campus for several years.
Church members have developed a strong relationship with international students over the years. Each fall, the congregation hosts a free garage sale, featuring household items and furnishings for international students attending all the colleges in town. They provide a Bible to each student, and each year, the church also hosts an international dinner.
Members "adopt" a student with whom to form a relationship and meet needs. "Those relationships lead to evangelism opportunities," Hill said.
While UHBC members use every legitimate opportunity to give an evangelistic witness, they are careful to offer it appropriately and sensitively, particularly at the elementary school.
"It's not an entrée to evangelize…or to proselytize…but to meet needs," the minister to families said. "Our programs have demonstrated…a missional approach to meeting needs."
Church leaders make sure conversation about school ministry is ongoing. Members are regularly informed about projects and how the church's involvement is being effective.
"Even parents who homeschool or send their children to private schools are involved in this ministry," Hill said. "We understand that it is our responsibility to be the body of Christ…and one way to do that in Springfield is to help our schools."
She added that University Heights joined its local neighborhood association for the same reason – to be the body of Christ throughout the area. Joining "allows us to communicate and meet needs on a level we couldn't otherwise…in the trenches and being part of the community…. Our job and our mission is to be involved in a missional way in those communities."