By Chris Moon
In her 20 years in children’s ministry at Fairview Christian Church in Carthage, Mo., Angie Fewin has never seen anything like COVID-19 and the effects it has had on the local church.
“We’ve had to rethink everything,” she said.
Just as senior pastors and church elders across the country have been working out how to reestablish in-person worship services as government stay-at-home orders are lifting, so children’s ministers are trying to figure out how to return their ministries to some semblance of normal—or at least to a new normal.
And there’s no time to lose. Summer—the highlight of any children’s ministry year—already is here.
Christian Standard asked Fewin for a children’s minister’s perspective on shaping a ministry plan during these uncertain times.
“We’re trying to come up with as many options as we can,” she said.
WHAT BECOMES OF TRADITIONAL PROGRAMMING?
The key question right now at Fairview Christian Church is exactly what the church can offer in the way of traditional children’s programming this summer.
The church doesn’t offer a full-scale Vacation Bible School. Instead, it breaks students up, based on age, to attend one of three “camps” during the summer. Preschoolers and kindergartners attend their own three-day camp, as do first-, second-, and third-graders.
Fourth- and fifth-graders, meanwhile, meet four Fridays during the summer, focusing on discipleship.
The first question is whether any of that can happen this summer, Fewin said. The second question is exactly how many students can attend at any one time as group gathering sizes continue to be a topic of discussion by health authorities. The biggest of Fairview’s camps could have 50 to 60 students in attendance.
“We’re just in limbo right now,” Fewin said.
Meanwhile, the church already has seen its normal summer church camp close for the summer. The camp, which isn’t far from the church, will be available for rent by individual churches, and Fairview is looking at that possibility.
But if you add it all up, it has been a difficult time to be in children’s ministry.
“There have been days when I’ve been very discouraged,” Fewin said.
The canceling of church camp was a big move. Fewin said she is a “huge fan” of church camp.
“That was probably the worst day of the whole thing. I cried that day,” she said.
CHILDREN CONTINUE TO COMMIT TO CHRIST
But the bad moments have been offset by grace-filled ones. Fewin said children have been baptized during the pandemic, and some are getting prepared to be baptized.
“That’s what keeps me going,” she said. “I know that God is still in control, and he is still moving. I can see evidence of that.”
Fewin also said her volunteers have been “amazing”—stepping in during the tough times to keep the ministry moving, albeit in socially distanced ways.
For instance, volunteers have helped to move the Wednesday night program to the internet. Fewin said children look forward to having something to watch.
The church shied away from doing Zoom meeting with the children because Fewin said she sensed parents were overwhelmed by the onslaught of Zoom meet-ups their children already had for school, especially at the beginning of the pandemic.
Instead of investing in Zoom time, the church went old-school. Fewin committed to sending personal letters to every student in her ministry every week during the pandemic. That added up to 200 letters to elementary kids each week. Fewin said her children’s ministry volunteers assisted in the effort.
It was a hit.
“I’ve had parents say, ‘We so appreciate those letters.’ [The kids] look forward to them,” Fewin said. “It’s a lost part of our culture—writing letters.”
She said one student made a decision for Christ during the quarantine and insisted that he write a letter to his small group leader to tell him about it.
“That was my biggest thing,” Fewin said. “How do we keep connected?”
That attitude will continue as the church moves into the summer and tries to answer all of its unanswered questions about its children’s programming. Fewin said her Bible college never taught any classes about how to do ministry during a pandemic.
“You are learning as you go,” she said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.