New Harmony Presbytery
A church with no children steps out in faith and receives an incredible gift
April 9, 2016
In many ways, the story of our little church is very much like the story of your church, if your church is like over half of all PC(USA) congregations, with fewer than 100 members. And I have walked through the halls of our building much as you have walked through the halls of yours, listening to church members telling stories of “better days,” of youth groups, Sunday school, Christmas pageants and the like.
Yes, I walked through those empty halls, peering into empty classrooms full of leftover children’s books and musty educational toys. As I walked, I prayed, “Lord, this is just not right. Please bring children back to this church. Please fill these empty rooms once again.”
During that time, we—all 25 members of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church—began to pray for children. Drawn to Genesis 15:5, we claimed God’s promise to Abraham, “Count the stars”:
He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
As we prayed, we began to look with fresh eyes around our own community, looking for children, and discovered that both the Boys and Girls Club and Hemingway Elementary School were our neighbors, within a stone’s throw. We approached them and began to plan together for our first community Vacation Bible School. We worked and watched as God opened doors and provided all that we needed, from community volunteers, to supplies, to reduced prices on snacks, all which culminated in three glorious days of holy chaos with 70 children. At the end of that first year, we all agreed that this was the most thrilling mission trip we had ever been a part of. The best part is that we got to sleep in our own beds at night.
While we exhaled in deep thanks for this annual gift of children, God’s promise continued to materialize when the director of a participating private school asked us to mentor her children who attend online classes with little personal interaction. This request gifted us with 20 middle and high school youth who now come to us every Wednesday afternoon for Bible study and recreation. The empty classrooms are now filled with students who sink comfortably into sofas and chairs, and enjoy a game of pool or ping-pong.
Today we are planning our fourth VBS, wondering if our numbers will exceed the 160 children that came last year. Each year has been a walk of faith for our little church, and each year God has provided abundantly for our needs and added to our partners, which are now two schools, five churches and our own youth group of volunteers. One of our partnering churches approaches this VBS week as a mission trip, driving 40 miles each day and bringing their adult and youth volunteers, their children and their entire VBS budget!
A night sky full of stars, answers to prayer, sticky fingers, happy smiles and the laughter of children—these are the gifts of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Rev. Dr. Lisa B. Culpepper
Stated Supply Pastor, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Hemingway, South Carolina
Chaplain, Presbyterian Communities in Florence, South Carolina
Let us join in prayer for:
Teaching Elder Bruce E. Ford, Executive Presbyter and Stated Clerk
Ruling Elder Julie L. Cox, Associate Executive Presbyter and Associate Stated Clerk
Elise H. Walker, Financial Administrator
Linda M. Borgman, Office Administrator
Netanyia G. Samuel, Secretary/Receptionist
Ruling Elder Kelly Boone Sloan, Program Director, Camp Pee Dee Retreat Center
Jason Steen, Facilities Director, Camp Pee Dee Retreat Center
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Gracious God, enable your church to step out in faith and to claim your promises once again. Help us to pray boldly, and open our eyes to the answers in our midst as we, your church, seek to carry your mission in the world. Amen.