Sports, science focus of unique children’s ministries
by Myra Holmes
This summer, three Mennonite Brethren congregations took cues from their communities to develop summer children’s ministry that more closely resembles day camp than a traditional vacation Bible school. Two of these camps—at South Mountain Community Church, Draper, Utah, and Pine Acres Church, Weatherford, Okla.—center on sports, while one—at North Park Community Church, Eugene, Ore.—focuses on science.
This was the fourth summer that Pine Acres hosted a sports camp, held this year June 22-28. Children’s director Stephanie Harris says that the camp was motivated by two things about Weatherford: Every church in town does vacation Bible school, and sports are important to this community.
Wanting something different and sports-oriented, Harris researched the idea of a sports camp, found a curriculum that kind of fit and customized it for Weatherford’s sports camp. As the church has gained experience with sports camp, they’ve tweaked and re-tweaked. “Every year, it gets a little bit better,” Harris says.
The camp targets kids just finishing first through fifth grade who are interested in either basketball or cheerleading. Kids are grouped into “teams” according to age and led by “huddle coaches” who teach skills and provide spiritual leadership.
Because Pine Acres doesn’t have a gym, they hold the camp at nearby Southwestern Oklahoma State University. During a typical morning, teams gather for “rally time,” practice skills during sports sessions and discuss spiritual applications during breaks. “It’s a pretty intense morning,” Harris says.
The camp has received positive response and has come to stand out among the sea of vacation Bible schools in the community. “This is something different,” Harris says.
Sports camp is a new endeavor for South Mountain Community Church in Draper. Children’s director Sheri Jones explains that a traditional vacation Bible school would simply be too threatening in their community, which is heavily influenced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
On the other hand, sports grab people’s attention. As the mother of sports-minded sons, Jones has observed firsthand how fun sports can be—and how easily they can become all-consuming.
So the SMCC sports camp, held July 8-10 using the theme “Love to play; live to love,” aims to improve skills and help kids strive for excellence in all of life. During a brief teaching time, coaches talk about how athletics fits into an overall life of excellence, one that includes God and relationships with other people.
Like Pine Acres, SMCC built their own camp, leaning heavily on the expertise of SMCC volunteers. The three-day camp focuses on a different sport each day—softball, soccer and basketball and is held in a local park. Each day, kids have warm-up time, skills practice and a chance to play a full game. The camp ends with a non-threatening celebration at the church to connect with parents.
Jones hopes that kids not only have fun at sports camp but also take away “something for their heads, something for their body, something for their heart.”
North Park Community Church also looked to the makeup of their community for the focus of their summer children’s ministry. The result was a science camp, held evenings Aug. 3-7.
North Park’s Terri Kargel explains that Eugene, Ore., is one of the least churched cities in the U.S., with a large population of “counter-cultural folk” and a large, liberal university. “We hope that science will appeal to them,” she says.
Like Harris and Jones, Kargel found no suitable curriculum, so North Park volunteers designed “ASK: Amazing Science for Kids.” Kids begin each evening together, then break into age-related groups to explore science labs such as: light and sound; liquids, solids and gasses; simple machines; and chemical reactions. Each lab includes a connection to a biblical idea.
“We are told all the time that God and science don’t mix,” Kargel says. “If we can show the children that all things science work the way they do because they are God’s ways, that would be success.”
Already North Park is talking about the next science camp. Perhaps an environmental theme, Kargel suggests, because it just might appeal to their unique community.