By Jessica Brodie
CHARLESTON—Every year, Bethel United Methodist Church kicks off vacation Bible school week with a sugary sweet treat in the form of Epworth Children’s Home peanut butter ice cream.
Bethel and its children’s ministries director are longtime supporters of the Methodist-founded children’s home, which has served children and youth from broken family systems since 1896, offering residential care, education, counseling, medical care and more.
Then the pandemic hit, prompting not only a virtual VBS but also a shortage on ice cream. When news also broke that Epworth had suffered a fire that destroyed one of its storage supply buildings, Bethel wanted to do something to help.
They decided to pair a churchwide collection of supplies for the children’s home with their VBS packet pickup, resulting in a truckload of donated supplies that kicked off their VBS week along with more than $3,500 cash and gift cards for Epworth.
“It’s just one of those ministries everyone has a heart for,” said Nova Jones Duncan, director of children’s ministries at Bethel. “There’s just something about helping a child.”
Duncan said in June, when the church’s supplies for their food pantry were running low, they decided to do a drive-by collection and received more than 5,000 pounds of food. As they prepared for their VBS packet pickup, Duncan wondered what would happen if they did a collection for Epworth then, too.
They publicized the “missions drive-by” event for weeks, then on July 19, cars swarmed Bethel’s campus loaded with supplies like laundry detergent, soap, toothbrushes, deodorant—and three brand-new Christmas trees plus ornaments, as the fire at Epworth destroyed all their Christmas decorations.
“Ten of our youth, wearing masks and offering muscle, gathered the gifts from people’s trucks and loaded them on the bus,” the Rev. Susan Leonard, senior pastor at Bethel, told the Advocate.
Leonard said Duncan and Director of Youth Ministries Garrison Pollock will head to Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia to deliver what she called “a busload of love and care.”
“At Bethel, Charleston, we are thankful to part of a connectional church where the health of one contributes to the health of all,” Leonard said, applauding the generosity of Bethel’s members and the love they displayed to a member of the UMC “family” in need.
Dr. Sandra Stevens Poirel, Charleston District superintendent, said she is grateful for Bethel’s generosity.
“This outpouring of care and compassion is a visible and tangible expression of sharing God’s love and the Gospel message,” Stevens Poirel said.
Duncan, a lifelong United Methodist, said Epworth has always been a part of her culture, and she knows how important a great foster home is for children who have no other place to call home.
Epworth CEO the Rev. John Holler said he is so grateful for the support shown by Bethel and so many other UMCs across the state.
“The generosity of United Methodists continues to amaze us,” Holler said. “Bethel’s membership and leaders are prime examples of love in action. We feel so richly blessed by this, and all the other expressions of care that Epworth has received.”