‘You’re also bringing yourselves’
Still reveling in the season of the Pentecost Offering, the guests on Monday’s Between Two Pulpits told host Dr. William McConnell about the ways their church uses the 40% of the Special Offering it retains to serve young adults, youth and children at risk. Watch the guests from Heritage Presbyterian Church in Mason, Ohio, tell their story here.
The church has a longstanding partnership with Mary Haven Youth Center in nearby Lebanon, Ohio, said Leslie Dauer-Creek, a member of the church’s Mission Committee. Dauer-Creek was joined by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Kevin Stainton, as well as Nelson Kennedy, who chairs Heritage’s Mission Committee, and Roger Rude, who works with the church’s backpack ministry.
A church delegation visits Mary Haven monthly “to spend some time and say, ‘Hey, you’re all right. You’re learning how to behave. We know you have some issues,’” Dauer-Creek said. The Heritage contingent plays games and supplies snacks for the youth ages 12-17, often bringing along someone who can demonstrate a skill, such as changing a flat tire. At Christmastime, the group brings gifts and gift cards for the youth, many of whom rotate in and out of the facility.
“You’ve found a good combination,” said McConnell, interim director of Special Offerings and Appeals in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “You’re using [Pentecost Offering] funds for gifts and food, but you’re also bringing yourselves.”
“That actually means more to them,” Dauer-Creek replied. “I always get a thank-you.”
Now in its 16th year, Heritage partners with Carmel Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati to each year pack and deliver up to 800 backpacks crammed with school supplies for the students who need them. Carmel Presbyterian Church already offered summer school courses for students who were falling behind, Rude explained.
“The neat thing [about the backpack ministry] is that it’s by far the biggest mission activity in terms of participation by members,” Rude told McConnell. “We have about 40 people from age 6 to people in their 80s participating, and people from Carmel come to join us. We kick it off during Vacation Bible School, when we talk to kids about kids starting school whose families don’t have enough money for school supplies. Our kids kick off the drive every year.”
“With great people on the committee, there’s not much for me to do,” quipped Kennedy, who chairs the Mission Committee. “I was one of the 40 to help load the backpacks. What I like about [the partnership with Mary Haven] is that Leslie always has wonderful creative games for the kids to play. I really do almost nothing.”
“What got my attention is the length of time you have been doing these ministries,” McConnell told his guests. He then asked Stainton, “as the pastor, how do you fit into all of this?”
“I just make the announcements on Sunday mornings,” Stainton said. “One of the goals I’ve had is to help folks live out their discipleship by participating in mission activities, the hands-on work that we do.” While Kennedy may downplay his own efforts, “Nelson has been involved in ministry to homeless folks for probably 20 years now,” Stainton said. “A lot of folks participate by giving more than money. They give themselves because caring for other people is a spiritual discipline.”
“In partnership with Carmel, we are trying to take that to another level now,” Stainton said. “We want to make sure the partnership is a true partnership and not a transactional relationship. That’s one of the reasons we invite the Carmel folks to come up and help us put the backpacks together. That connection we have with people — we learn what to do from the people who are the recipients of it.”
Asked by McConnell to pass along advice for churches considering such an outreach, Dauer-Creek said the way to get so many Heritage people involved was to talk to them about what they want to get out of their relationship with the church. “When I joined, the Mary Haven mission was one of the things that drew me in,” Dauer-Creek said. “I look at why people gravitate to the faith, and that spoke to me. These kids who are in trouble — what they really need is someone to understand them and be there for them.”
“We are excited along with you,” McConnell told his guests, “about the great ministry you’re doing.”
Go here to find current and past editions of Between Two Pulpits, which is offered most Mondays by Special Offerings.
This was published for Presbyterian News Service on June 8, 2022.
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