By: Christa Meland
This year, as students walked into Reede Gray Elementary School in Redwood Falls on the first day of school, nearly 30 people from neighboring First UMC and beyond were there to greet them. The church and community members waved and held signs with messages like “Blessings” and “Your friends at the Methodist Church are praying for you.”
This is the third school year in which COVID has changed a lot for students, but one thing that has remained consistent is the church’s presence and support.
First UMC is one of many churches in the Minnesota Conference that has partnered with a school in its area. Church-school partnerships are a key way to love our neighbors and join Jesus’ ministry of extending abundant life to all of God’s beloved children.
“Our prayer is for every child to experience God’s grace, and our hope is the kids will know God does love and care for each of them,” said Rev. Randy Koppen. “We recognize less and less families are connected to faith communities, and we believe our intentional actions will enable the kids and staff to know that churches truly are extensions of God’s love.”
Mabel and Newburg UMCs have also established a partnership with their local school, Mabel-Canton Public School. For more than 10 years, the churches have contacted the school at the beginning of the year to find out what the teachers need in order to support students in the best way possible. This year, teachers asked for scientific calculators for students that couldn’t afford one, individual containers of Play-Doh for kindergarteners so they wouldn’t share germs, new markers for white boards, and pairs of ear buds for special needs students to support their reading efforts.
The congregations responded generously to the request—and also gave a variety of other school supplies. “We believe that the church is a part of the community, and service is part of our mission,” said Rev. Pam Seebach. “Teachers who feel supported by the community will be better teachers. Our Christian values, and particularly the values voiced by John Wesley, describe ‘social holiness,’ meaning putting the love of God into action. By supporting the teachers, we believe we are supporting all the students in concrete ways.”
First, Mabel, and Newburg UMCs support their local schools in other ways too.
Another part of First UMC’s multi-faceted and longstanding partnership with Reede Gray involves hosting an annual back-to-school dinner in conjunction with the school’s back-to-school open house. Last year, because of the pandemic, the church distributed family-size boxes of cereal instead of a meal—and this year, the congregation provided to-go options for families to enjoy in a parking lot dining area.
Additionally, on a recent Sunday, nearly 30 strings of paper cranes—one for each classroom—floated on strings in the church sanctuary. Members had prayed for each child and educator by name as they affixed labels to the cranes’ wings, and the whole congregation prayed for everyone at school to be filled with God’s peace before the cranes “migrated” across the street and landed at the doors of each classroom.
“Our desire is for them to know Jesus and grow in their faith,” said Koppen. “Part of First UMC’s mission statement includes ‘in loving service of our congregation, our community, and God’s world.’ This is one way to live out our mission.”
Meanwhile, Mabel and Newburg UMCs recently received a church-school partnership grant from the conference that will allow them to expand their partnership even further. For a number of years, the churches have been providing one book (chosen by the teacher) to each kindergartener every month for the whole school year. This year, they plan to expand this offering to the first-grade class as well—and each month, a church member will go to the school and read the book to the class.
“We want to communicate to the students and teachers that our church is alive and we care about them,” said Seebach.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church