Wampee afterschool program breathes new life into old church

By Jessica Connor

LITTLE RIVER—Two years ago, Wampee United Methodist Church was almost on its way out.

By the time the Rev. Jo Anna Fallaw was appointed to lead the congregation, the tiny coastal church had just eight members in worship each Sunday “ no Sunday school, no Bible studies, no fellowship dinners, no major ministries.

But they weren t ready to roll over and die without one final fight for life.

˜We will try anything, Fallaw remembers one Wampee member telling her at her first church meeting. This congregation is not afraid to dream big.

Fast-forward to today, and it s an entirely different picture. Wampee is alive with excitement and renewed vigor, quadrupling their membership and tripling the number of children in worship.

And now they have a brand-new ministry to cement their revival: the Children s Resource Center of Wampee.

The CRCW is a free afterschool program where kindergarten and first graders are able to enjoy guided play, homework help, spiritual development, academic reinforcements, computer time and more. Guidance counselors at the nearby elementary school are working with the CRCW, helping identify children in need who will ride the school bus to Wampee, then stay until 5:30 or 6 p.m. when their parents pick them up after work.

Right now, they can accommodate 20 children, but Wampee envisions building an education center behind the church, where they can help more kids and follow them through school as they age.

We want to be a life-changing force for them, said Jayson Powers, chairman of the CRCW board, who is also the assistant principal at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology in Myrtle Beach. It s not just day care “ our goal is to help children grow academically, spiritually and socially.

˜What is going on at Wampee?

The seeds for the CRCW were planted when Wampee began its first steps to revival.

Although Wampee is an existing church, Fallaw s appointment there, and at nearby Ebenezer UMC, is considered a new church start charge. The S.C. Conference of the UMC is treating the charge like a new church in order to assist them in revisioning how they can grow and reach the community they serve.

Those are two places where the statistics and the demographics say we need a church, said Rusty Taylor, director of congregation development for the conference. Everywhere we can we would like to have existing churches catch a new vision for what they can do for the Kingdom.

Wampee soon started having Bible studies, fellowship dinners, quilt and crafting groups, choir groups with live music and Sunday school classes for children and adults “ the latter something Wampee has not had for 40 years.

People are driving by, asking our church members, ˜What is going on at Wampee? And some have come in, become members, Fallaw said. This church is hopping, absolutely hopping!

As Wampee began looking outward, they began feeling a natural inclination to help children. It was a natural fit, Powers said “ after all, many Wampee members are teachers or retired teachers, or have some sort of educational background.

Indeed, that is part of why Powers became involved. An assistant principal, he sees the need firsthand, sees the hopes, dreams and frustrations not only in the children, but in their families, as well. He and the other church members believe wholeheartedly that, given all the obstacles in life, education is one obstacle these children shouldn t have to hurdle alone.

Today, every Wampee member is participating in the CRCW in one way or another, no matter their age. Two of the ministry s most active volunteers are 90 and 92 years old.

Every church has to find their niche to thrive and survive, find what matters to them and pursue that, Powers said. And it doesn t matter how small you are. People say, ˜Oh, we only have 35 members, we can t do it. But we did the opposite. We said, ˜We can.

Indeed, that s precisely what it takes to flourish when so many other small churches are dying. Wampee is a small church with older members, but as Fallaw said, that s no excuse for giving up.

God calls us until we re dead, Fallaw said, repeating words she frequently tells her congregation. We just have to listen to the Holy Spirit and not be afraid, have to let the Spirit guide us.

Part of letting the spirit guide them is being willing to simply give as they are asked. The afterschool program is not about them, not about getting anything, not even about drawing new members, she said. It s simply a way they can help their community, no questions asked.

Fallaw said they don t even worry about money.

So many small churches are dying, and they re not doing anything. If you re not doing anything, then people are not attracted to you, she said. God has called, and He ll provide.

Taylor said the CRCW has a lot of potential for attracting new Wampee members.

Every afterschool program I ve been involved in ¦has fed the congregation with new families, so there is the potential to reach more younger people by having this, he said.

Getting creative

But being a small church, Wampee has had to be really creative in maximizing those funds, Fallaw said. They are reusing materials and decorations from vacation Bible school, and seeking churches old VBS materials for use later in the year. Right now, the CRCW is seeking a grant for 20 iPads from the Belin Foundation. If they get the grant, students would use the iPads at Wampee to help with homework and skills-building. Trinity UMC, Conway, is helping with donations and resources. And Wampee is partnering with nearby Little River UMC and other groups to supplement volunteers.

Local Rotary Club President Steve Thomas said he is impressed with Wampee s efforts: ˆ It s the kind of thing you typically see in a church with larger resources. For such a small church, it s quite an undertaking.

Church members say they are happy to volunteer with the ministry, even when it sometimes takes them out of their comfort zone. They like that it helps the church.

We re all trying, said Wampee member Rebecca Scott.

Wampee member Joan Overman, who worked for state social service programs 24 years before her retirement, said she knows the need is there, and she is glad she has the chance to help.

This is what church is about “ or at least, is supposed to be, Overman said.

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