Two congregations connect to community through schools - Word&Way

Two congregations connect to community through schools

Serving Clark Elementary School helps the roughly 40 members of Woodlawn Avenue Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan., realize they have a purpose, a contribution to make to their community.

shutterstock male teacher webFor members at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, Mo., connecting one-to-one as mentors at Westview Elementary School has been a way to improve lives.

Ministering to Clark Elementary “seemed to be what God wanted,” Woodlawn Avenue Pastor Steve Brecheisen said.

About seven or eight years ago, the congregation was praying for a ministry to the neighborhood. God “gave a vision” to a member, explained Beth Easterday, the church’s volunteer Christian education director.

Members started by doing a school supply drive. “The doors opened after that…. We just followed God’s leading,” she said.

Now in addition to school supply drive, every year the congregation provides goodie bags for all students at Christmas. At Easter, members take home-baked cookies. They provide grocery gift cards to six families the principal selects at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Several times throughout the school year, church members reach out to teachers by providing doughnuts, brownies and other snacks — always with a note of thanks and appreciation.

The congregation responds with help whenever the principal calls about families with extra needs. “We always make it known to the principal that we are available if a family needs help,” Easterday said.

shutterstock female teache webBut she believes Woodlawn Avenue’s longest lasting contribution will be through the lives volunteers touch in their weekly after-school Bible club, Campus Kids. Part of Wichita-based Campus Kids Ministries, the club is hosted at the school. About 65 students register each school year, with about 30 to 40 attending each week.

A typical session includes songs, a Bible story, an activity, an object lesson, a craft or game and a snack. Students are not required to attend, and those who do must have a permission slip signed by a parent or guardian.

Several First, Lee’s Summit, members mentor students who struggle with math, reading, writing and other subjects. The congregation also provides breakfast foods for Westview Elementary’s Character Study Breakfast, a monthly event that recognizes students from each grade and class for a specific character trait. Occasionally, the school has invited First Baptist members as guest speakers.

Leaders from both churches said they have not experienced any problems over separation of church and state issues. The Wichita School District “pretty much has opened their arms to church help,” the Woodlawn Avenue pastor said.

David Maddron, children’s minister at First Baptist, Lee’s Summit, agreed. “We try to be very sensitive to the opportunity we have to serve our community in this manner and, thus, all those who have partnered with us over the years have really helped make our involvement with this school a huge success,” he said.

The two ministers also noted that partnership with a local school has benefitted their churches. It provides an opportunity for members to become involved, Maddron said.

“We desire to meet the needs of our community and this is just one of those unique opportunities for us to be able to do that,” he added.

“I’m amazed at how the church comes together…every time we do something for a kid or the school,” Brecheisen said. “It’s pretty amazing” for a congregation of its size.

Member Jo Templin felt led to start Kids’ Camp, a children’s worship experience held each Sunday during adult service, as an offshoot of the school effort.

Congregations interested in connecting with a local school should first pray for God’s direction, the church leaders emphasized. “Pray for guidance, for what God would want you to do,” Easterday said.

When members believe the ministry is God-directed, they should approach the principal. “Build relationships with the administration. Their blessings on church involvement is crucial,” Maddron said.

“We can show people Jesus with our actions. That can go a long way in building those relationships and, ultimately, helping shape the lives of children.”

Church members must be willing to help in any way possible, he added, including stapling pictures to a bulletin board. “Make the most of the smallest of opportunities,” he said.