Online gathering helps Upstate children’s ministers exchange ideas, stay connected during COVID

By Jessica Brodie

Before the pandemic, a group of children’s ministers in the Upstate were already gathering to exchange ideas, brainstorm and support each other. But when COVID-19 hit this spring, they evolved to an online group that has been a lifeline for many, as well as a practical way to keep doing new and effective ministry for God’s Kingdom.

Ruth Hughes, director of children’s and leisure ministries at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Greenville, has been coordinating the group for some time, taking the reins from Anne Shelton, former children’s minister at Advent UMC who has since moved out of state.

“Anne started these Saturday things she called ‘the un-conference,’ a few hours in the morning of sharing ideas, and it was really fun to listen to these other churches and what they were doing, churches of all sizes.

“You’d sit there thinking about a VBS, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of kids, a lot of volunteers. How did you get these volunteers? What was your process?’”

They’d gather monthly for coffee and quiche at Strossner’s, a Greenville bakery. Anyone was welcome as long as they were involved in children’s ministry in some way, regardless of denomination or whether they had a paid position or not.

“Then COVID happened, so we couldn’t have coffee and quiche anymore,” Hughes said.

Instead, they decided to gather online. Now they meet monthly via Zoom to exchange ideas and come together in what has been a difficult time for everyone—churches in particular.

The Rev. Cathy Joens, congregational specialist for the Anderson and Greenville districts of the UMC, said the group has been a huge blessing.

“They work on innovate ways to serve children during this pandemic,” Joens said. “They support one another and share resources.”

COVID made their partnership all the more important, Joens and Hughes said, especially as vacation Bible school approached and many churches were faced with deciding whether to do VBS in person, online or not at all.

“Some churches had already been playing with videos and virtual stuff, so they were good resources, and also good for looking at curriculum—what they liked and didn’t like, why, why they chose certain things,” Hughes said. “And they were not all Methodist either, which was even better, because they brought new insights we didn’t know about.”

They have also shared many ideas beyond VBS, such as Bitmoji virtual classrooms created through Google Slides and other technical innovations.

Hughes shared about how, at her church, she had her fifth and sixth graders put up yard signs in neighbors’ yards sending them “hugs and kisses from Aldersgate.”

“It has been fun, and I love the fact that it’s managed to do well over summertime and during COVID,” Hughes said.

For those who can’t attend a meeting, she records the Zoom call and sends it out so everyone can still benefit.

Anyone interested in participating is welcome to join them, Hughes said, no matter where they live. To get involved, email her at [email protected].

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