SHUTDOWN CAN’T STIFLE CREATIVITY Of CHILDREN’S AND YOUTH MINISTERS
By LORETTA FULTON
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, creating havoc, shutting down schools, churches and some businesses, and leaving everyone wondering when “social distancing” will disappear from our vocabulary.
One thing it hasn’t been able to do is stifle creativity. Nowhere is that more evident than in the children’s and youth departments at local churches. Sunday School teachers and youth ministers were ahead of the game with their knowledge of social media and technologies like the Zoom meeting app. As soon as closures began, they started putting that knowledge to use, creating videos, scheduling virtual meeting times, and posting lessons and activities online for the youth of their churches.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” said Terence Waldron, youth minister for grades seven through twelve at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church. “People are just happy to see a familiar face.”
Waldron, education director Jeff Scott, college minister Taylor Cruse, and children’s minister Cristi Stanton are working together to make sure all those age groups know they are being cared for spiritually, and in some cases, physically, during this time of quarantine.
“We’ve all been in pretty regular contact,” Waldron said.
Each day, Waldron prepares a 10-minute devotional, which he posts at 4 p.m. on Facebook and Instagram Live. Stanton prepares a word of encouragement and an activity that parents of younger children can use. Cruse leads group meetings for college students via Zoom.
A couple of Waldron’s students expressed their appreciation for his efforts and said staying in touch virtually is necessary to keep everyone connected. Without that connection, some might feel left out.
“This is definitely a time when you can stray away,” said Chelsea Rainwater, a sophomore at Abilene High School and lifelong member of Pioneer Drive.
Chelsea also is texting one friend a day to stay connected and participates in a group text Bible study with others in her youth group.
Khloe Mason, a freshman at Abilene High, said Waldron’s efforts to keep the youth connected is “super helpful.” She, too, watches Waldron’s devotionals and takes part in the group text. Without that connection, she fears some might drop out.
“I feel like it’s just so easy to panic and stray away from things you believe in,” she said.
Children’s and youth leaders in churches of all denominations across Abilene are coming up with creative ways to keep their young flocks from straying. Karissa Clausen, director of youth ministry at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, is conducting a virtual Bible study over Zoom and staying connected via texting and Instagram.
“We have decided to take a break from our regular series of curriculum and do a self-paced Bible study,” Clausen said in an email.
Kids can do the hour-long study anytime during the week and then join an online meeting on Sunday evening. Clausen also is planning an online scavenger hunt and movie night where all watch together.
Normally, the children play musical instruments and sing during the worship part of their meetings, but for now she is filling in with a Spotify playlist. Clausen also delivered “quarantine bags” to the youth to let them know they are being cared for.
Karissa Clausen delivers “quarantine bags” from Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Submitted photo
Hope Rouse, children’s director at Aldersgate, is creating a video series that is comparable to the Sunday night programming normally held at the church. She also is providing parents with activities like crafts, games, and discussion questions.
“Also, because our Easter Egg Hunt is getting canceled, I am passing out stuffed Easter Eggs to the families of our church,” she said in an email, “so they can have an Easter Egg Hunt at home.”
Another casualty of the coronavirus quarantine is the Big A Wednesday night programming sponsored by City Light Community Ministries. Normally, children in grades one through five are picked up and brought to City Light, which is located next door to sponsoring First Baptist Church. On Tuesday, March 24, Big A director Katlynn Nichols delivered care bags to the children, instead, with the help of her boyfriend, Asa Welker. She asked teachers to write letters to the children and most used an Easter theme.
“It was really cool they all thought of the same thing,” she said.
Nichols also wrote a letter to each child.
“I wanted to reassure you that it is going to be okay,” Nichols wrote. “God has not gone away. He is still right there with you!”
Nichols told the children how much she misses them, included a Bible story, and assured them that when the quarantine ends, they would all do something fun together at Big A.
Katlynn Nichols and Asa Welker look over the care bags they prepared for children in the Big A program sponsored by City Light Community Ministries. Submitted photo
Suzetta Nutt, children’s minister at Highland Church of Christ, with the help of her eight-year-old daughter, created an entertaining video, “Baking Communion Bread with Tabby and Suzetta.” Nutt said in an email that, like other churches, Highland continues to look for ways to maintain connection with one another.
“We hope to provide support, encouragement and a calm presence as we work together figuring out how to best be the church with one another during this unprecedented time,” Nutt said in an email.
She listed some ways she and others are trying to stay connected with children and families in the children’s ministry:
- Weekly posting of a video Bible story including a family challenge and suggested activities.
- Wednesday Night Prayer Wall done virtually through Facebook Live.
- Making of communion bread.
- In our online worship each Sunday, a child leads the church in the Lord’s prayer. This is a video filmed at home by the child’s parent earlier in the week.
- Video chats with children/classes through ZOOM
- Virtual storytime with a few of our wonderful volunteers reading their favorite stories
- Holy Week for families, beginning with a virtual Palm Sunday Procession. Every year our church looks forward to the children waving their palm branches as we begin Palm Sunday worship. Since we won’t be gathering in person this year, we are asking families to video their children waving the branches, which will then be shared with the whole church via our livestream.
Ashley Sirman, student minister at Highland, works with youths in sixth through twelfth grades. She is keeping the youth engaged through social media and Zoom. Currently, students are working their way through the book of Galatians via Instagram. Zoom meetings are planned for Wednesday nights. Recorded Bible classes are posted on the church’s website on Sundays.
Then on Wednesdays, students can Zoom into their Huddles to answer discussion questions based on the video, Stirman said in an email. Huddles are grade-based small groups led by adult volunteers. Leaders are staying in touch with the youths through Instagram, phone calls, and texts.
“I would rather us focus on connection than content,” Stirman said in an email, “so smaller group settings and more one-on-one conversations seem the best option for us moving forward.”
Loretta Fulton is founder and editor of spiritofabilene.com