A key to an effective ministry is often relationships, which is also the case in ministries built around a church/school partnership. When the pandemic took one aspect of the Elsberry United Methodist Church’s ministry to neighborhood children and youth out of commission, the church was well-positioned for what was to come next.
“We were able to pivot our ministry to meet a new need for youth in the community caught in the technology gap,” said Missie Seeger, member of Elsberry UMC.
Elsberry UMC had a robust partnership with the local school called Feed ‘em, Teach ‘em, Love ‘em (FTL). Through this partnership, they picked up as many as 40 students ages 4-14 every Sunday morning and brought them to church. There they were fed a homemade breakfast, participated in worship and Sunday school, and sent home with lunch. The primary architect of this program was Missie’s husband Tom Seeger, who recently died of cancer.
FTL was suspended during the onset of the pandemic due to safety concerns. This fall the school opened for elementary students but started the school year for high school students as online-only instruction. Some students did not have good internet connectivity at home. Others may have had internet, but didn’t have a good learning environment, due to having to share a small space with younger siblings.
Using memorial money given in honor of Seeger, the church upgraded its Internet service and opened its facility to be used as a socially-distanced learning center while the high school is online only due to the pandemic.
“We could provide high-speed internet connectivity to 100 laptops now,” said Jason Miller, member of Elsberry UMC and middle school principal. “Providing a safe learning environment for these students has freed up some parents so they can return to work.”
Seeger is now at the school every Wednesday, volunteering to be present for the students. She said some people get nervous about volunteering, but it is quite easy. The students are spaced out at individual tables in the fellowship hall and are listening to instruction through earbuds or headphones. The room is totally quiet.
“We’ve created an environment where these kids can thrive,” Seeger said.
Volunteers staff the center and bring lunches for the students from the school to the church. About 10 students are at the school daily. Someone goes in to prep the church at about 7 a.m., and it is opened to students at 7:45 a.m. to give them time for homework or studying. Online instruction begins at 9 a.m. Volunteers aren’t teachers, they are just monitoring the room.
“If someone has questions they can call the school and I can send over a counselor or a teacher,” Miller said.
In addition to the FTL and the recent online opportunity, the church has been engaged with children and youth in the community by hosting mobile camps in the summer, with as many as 150 campers participating. Miller is impressed with how the congregation has embraced reaching out beyond the walls of the church to be of service to their community.
“I think 10 years ago doing something like this may have been met with resistance,” he said. “But now that we’ve been engaged with the area youth and had some success, we can present these wild ideas to the rest of the congregation, and we get, ‘I don’t know, but we can give it