Small church makes big impact in children’s lives around the world
El Camino Bible Church, Santa Clara, Calif., held its final service April 12, just one day short of its 51st birthday. The congregation had slowly but steadily declined in attendance to only 18-22 people.
“We couldn’t keep going without any new people,” says church secretary Betty Funk.
El Camino began as a Sunday school in the home of Booth and Margaret Kugler in May 1953 and broke ground on their sanctuary four years later in May 1957.
In the early years of the church’s history, the congregation was known for outreach to neighborhood children through summer vacation Bible school. Ministry to children and families was expanded through Noah’s Ark Preschool, founded in 1972. Noah’s Ark will continue to operate on the premises until mid-2010.
The church was also known for faithfulness in giving to the larger Mennonite Brethren family. “El Camino was a very faithful conference church, contributing to Mennonite Brethren ministries generously and consistently throughout their history,” says Gary Wall, district minister for the Pacific District Conference.
Wall adds that a love for one another and for those in need “was part of their DNA.” One shining example of the congregation’s love for those in need and their heart for mission was their participation in making school kits, which were distributed to children around the world by Mennonite Central Committee, the peace, relief and service agency of North American Mennonites. Even as the congregation processed the decision to close the church, their commitment to the school children of the world ran strong; El Camino gave 1,000 school kits in their final year.
The gift of school kits to MCC is a long-time tradition at El Camino. Every year since 1997, the congregation has pooled their energies and resources for the project: sewing cloth bags, searching out bargains on the supplies and mobilizing young and old for the task of packing the kits.
The congregation was inspired in the project by the story of member Anna Franz. As a child Franz had been a refugee in Germany and received a school kit from MCC. Her memory of the thrill of having paper and a pencil of her very own gave members a vivid picture of the difference they could make in a child’s life.
The 1,000 kits they made this year was no anomaly. In recent years the small congregation had produced between 700 and 1,000 kits annually. Over the years they have made kits for 6,435 children.
“This little church put together more kits than any other church in our region last year. And when you think about it per member it is far more—it comes to about 40 kits per person,” says Arnold Baron, MCC material resources supervisor.
Making the kit bags has been a year-round project for several members. One elderly member, Marion Snedaker, used to pick up fabric for a dozen kits every Sunday and return the following Sunday with the completed bags.
Marcella Claassen has also spent a lot of time sewing bags. Her husband, Eldon, threads the drawstrings. As Marcella sews she thinks about the children who will receive these kits. “I like to pretend there’s a child across the table from me, watching with their big eyes,” she says.
The annual school kit project has been a rallying point for this struggling congregation. As church secretary Funk notes, “It’s one thing a little small church can do.” —Kathy Heinrichs Wiest for West Coast MCC with CL staff