Sportscamp: The Pandemic Edition

By Marie Grmek, Director of Children’s Ministry at Willoughby Hills UMC

Our church has plenty of traditions as do most of you! Our summer has consisted of Sportscamp for 23 years leading up to 2020. It is a full day of running, team building games, crafts, picnic lunches and pool time..oh and more running. This year the original director of camp passed away which hit us all pretty hard. With all the disappointment the global pandemic has caused, it seemed like the easy way out for us to say Sportscamp was cancelled this year due to the virus. Many churches did cancel their VBS plans and this is no dig at them, I promise. Every church has to do what is right for their congregation. But I just kept feeling this push inside of me and these ideas kept flowing. I will of course give all credit to the Holy Spirit, I did seek out his guidance and prayed heavily about the whole shebang! Here is how we changed it all up for the sake of safety in the wake of covid-19.

Huge disclaimer: totally out of my comfort zone! So expect that as a possibility.

It did require loads more preparation than usual and sportscamp is a beast of a job to pull off each year any way! My goal was not completely clear in the beginning but I knew it needed to be family friendly, less tech, more hands on, fun and engaging. Tall order? Yes! Especially since we were using VBS curriculum which I usually only take the devotions/Bible stories for camp and adapt those. So more new territory! I read through every resource they gave us and pulled out what I thought might be easy and fun to do at home. We used Orange curriculum: Focus and they did have an online element for us to share,which I kept to a minimum.

We have a volunteer team that usually helps me with camp and we did several zoom meet ups so I could throw things at them and get feedback. They had some great ideas and we were rolling.

Families would register their kids, and we required one adult to sign up. Families were put onto teams. They needed to join our Sportscamp Facebook group. This would be where we had all the zoom links, Bible story links, etc. The only cost was $10pp for the camp shirt to help show some solidarity since we were not at camp together, we all had the same shirts. These shirts also had Ms. Nancy’s (first director) name on the sleeve to honor her memory. Scholarships were available. We raised money to cover the cost of supplies and made up a Camp bag for each family with most of what they needed for the week inside.

The BIble videos were uploaded the week before and scheduled to post the night before so families could watch them before bed or during breakfast before our zoom meet up. They had a choice between the 7 minute or 25 minute video to watch. These we found were best pinned to the top of the page to be easier to find. As families started posting pictures they would get lost in the middle of it all.

Each day centered around the Bible story theme and we had activities and challenges they could participate in as a family to earn points for their team.
My goal was to have a short 20-30 minute zoom meet up everyday. So we would explain the bigger challenge for the day and then head to breakout rooms by team and discuss the Bible story. Breakout rooms were made easier to fill by having families rename themselves their team name-last name. We came back to the main session to pray and head out for the fun of the day. They were encouraged to take pictures doing the challenges/activities and upload them to the group so we could all see each other all week.

Some of the challenges: Monday: scavenger hunt in 4 parks with 10 rocks with Bible verses showing God’s character. They had to bring a Bible or use a Bible app. Tuesday: Drive through at church to drop off pictures for the nursing homes to encourage the residents. Wednesday: food drive. Thursday: Obstacle course set up all day at church and Drive through at church for our own Royal Family Kids Camp campers: while they waited their turn, they could do bubble or chalk prayers. Friday:Drive through at church for our own Royal Family Kids Camp campers: school supply drive.
Each drop off was from 1-2pm and 6-7pm to accommodate any working parents. We had volunteers manning the stations for us and social distancing was practiced and masks were worn. There were other activities available each day as well and I will attach that document here too.
Running/walking still happened too. They could log up to 2 hours per day per person and other family members were allowed to participate.
Each night or early morning, families had to upload their total family points/miles in the google doc in their team section for that day. This doc was also pinned to the top of our Facebook group. Team leaders did have to help a few people with this but it went rather well.

In all we had 63 campers, 103 total participants and more adults joining in. The zoom meet ups were my biggest source of anxiety. I have led plenty of meetings on zoom, but there were 32 boxes and between 2-6 people in each box on some days. Tech is always an issue as you all have experienced, but God is good. It was pretty well received and they kept showing up! We ended up logging 1,418.5 miles and we had people participating in KY, Ga and Tn as well as locally.

I am so grateful the Lord gave me the nudge and I am so glad I listened. It was hard work, it was stressful but so amazing to see families actively participating in learning about Jesus and sowing his love to the community. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and swam upstream against the current but with the Holy Spirit guiding me, I can feel nothing but blessed to have been a part of his plan.


EXTRA DAILY ACTIVITIES FOR INSIDE/RAINY DAYS/CAN’T LEAVE DURING THE DAY:
CHOOSE FROM ANY OF THESE OR ONE OF THE EXTRA DAILY ACTIVITIES IN YOUR PACKET WITH PARENT’S HELP:
1 POINT:
· CHALK A NEIGHBOR’S DRIVEWAY WITH AN ENCOURAGING MESSAGE/PICTURE
· MAKE SIGNS TO PUT UP IN YOUR WINDOW/NEIGHBOR’S WINDOW
· OFFER TO HELP MOM/DAD WITH WORK AROUND THE HOUSE
· CALL A FRIEND YOU HAVEN’T TALKED TO FOR AWHILE
· CUT FLOWERS FROM YOUR YARD TO GIVE AWAY
· GLOVE UP AND CLEAN UP SOME LITTER WITH PARENTS
· WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE TO THE MAIL CARRIER OR GARBAGE MAN
· WRITE A CARD TO SOMEONE AT OUR CHURCH & MAIL IT
· TURN OFF THE ELECTRONICS AND GO SPEND TIME WITH SOMEONE
· EMPTY THE DISHWASHER OR PUT SOMEONE ELSE’S DISHES IN THE DISHWASHER
· OFFER AN APOLOGY TO SOMEONE YOU OWE ONE TO
· MAKE SOMEONE’S BED AND LEAVE A SWEET NOTE
· GIVE A FAMILY MEMBER A HUG
· WAKE UP EARLY AND DO YOUR SIBLING’S CHORES
· CHECK IN ON AN ELDERLY NEIGHBOR
· MAIL A LETTER TO SOMEONE TO CHEER THEM UP
· GREET EVERYONE WITH A SMILE TODAY
· DONATE CRAYONS AND COLORING BOOKS TO CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
· HIDE A DOLLAR IN A TOY SECTION AT THE DOLLAR STORE
· TELL SILLY JOKES TO MAKE SOMEONE LAUGH
· LEAVE A HAPPY NOTE FOR SOMEONE TO FIND, LIKE IN A LIBRARY BOOK
5 POINTS:
· DONATE BLANKETS TO ANIMAL SHELTERS
· WRITE A CARD TO YOUR PASTOR
· COLLECT BOOKS TO DONATE TO LOCAL SHELTER (I.E: PROJECT HOPE)
· SET UP A FREE LEMONADE STAND
· HELP MAKE DINNER WITH YOUR PARENT
· MAKE A BIRD FEEDER
· PLACE A JAR OF PENNIES BY A WISHING FOUNTAIN
· OFFER TO DO YARDWORK FOR OLDER NEIGHBOR
· OFFER TO WASH THE CAR/ NEIGHBOR’S CAR
· WALK A NEIGHBOR’S DOG
· BUILD A FREE “LIBRARY” BOX IN YOUR YARD
10 POINTS:
· SING OUR CAMP SONG AND POST IT TO THE FACEBOOK GROUP
· MAKE BROWNIES FOR A NEIGHBOR OR THE LOCAL POLICE OR FIRE DEPARTMENT
· GRATITUDE SCAVENGER HUNT (SEE ATTACHED DOCUMENT FOR DETAILS)

*REMEMBER, TAKE PICTURES OF YOUR FAMILY AT DIFFERENT DESTINATIONS & UPLOAD THEM FOR CREDIT*

A Very Creative Way to Involve the Whole Congregation in Confirmation Worship

During a recent Spiritual Formation Network gathering, Anne Horvath, Director of Youth Ministries at
Willoughby Hills United Methodist Church shared the creative way she gets the whole congregation involved in the worship service on Confirmation Sunday. Following is what Anne shared during worship to introduce and give direction to the congregation.

“This year’s confirmation journey began in September of 2018. Over the last 8 months, the class of youth has met together to learn what it means to claim their faith for themselves. They have had faith conversations with their parents, each have had an adult mentor to guide their journey, and they participated in 2 retreat experiences – a one day retreat at Red Oak with their mentors and a weekend retreat at Camp Asbury with other confirmation youth from around our East Ohio Conference. Every part of the WHUMC confirmation process was designed to help them learn and grow, and to prepare them to become full and active participants in the life of the church. It is my prayer that these youth, who are at the end of the confirmation journey, are just at the beginning of a life of loving God with all of their heart, soul, and strength!
“This morning the youth are making the promise to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Each of us made this promise when we joined the church. As a way of helping you remember and reflect on how you are supporting WHUMC with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, this morning we have set up a station for each of these topics and invite you to participate in the activities at each one. There will be youth at each station to help you, but here is a brief description of each station:
• At the prayer station, you are invited to take a piece of paper and write a prayer request or a praise. The youth at the station will use the paper strips to create a prayer chain with all of our prayers.
• At the presence station, you are invited to take a stone from the bowl of water to remember the promises made at your baptism. You are also invited to take one of the slips of paper from the table that contain the following scripture passage from 2 Peter: And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.
• At the gifts station, you are invited to take a piece of paper that has a gift on it and write how you are using (or plan to use) your gifts – which could be financial or your time and talents – for service to God. You then drop your gift into the larger gift box to symbolize giving your gifts to God.
• At the service station, you are invited to choose a sticker that represents how you are serving (or plan to serve) in missions. You then put the sticker on the poster board. There are a few copies of our mission brochure at this station if you are interested in learning more about the missions of WHUMC.
• The final station is the witness station. Here you are invited to take a push pin and place it somewhere on the map to represent spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world. There are also slips of paper here with ideas for Random Acts of Kindness that you can do as a way to share the love of Jesus Christ out in the world.

For those of you who are unable to make your way to the stations, or would like another option, there is a journaling page in your worship folder today. On that page you are encouraged to write about your commitments in the areas of prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness.“

Thank you, Anne, for your willingness to share your creative idea!

Ministry with Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ministry with Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Suggestions for Use in Phase 1 of Reopening EOC Church Buildings
1. Pray. Pray and lead others in prayer for those infected with COVID-19, those affected financially, those facing anxiety, for the children and families of your congregation and community, and for the ministries of your church with children.
2. Check with your curriculum providers. Many are providing direction on how to use their curriculum resources effectively during the pandemic.
3. Go virtual with your lessons. Record your own videos of teachers or leaders teaching the weekly lesson. Today’s smartphones can record quality videos that can be shared through social media and recorded at teacher’s homes. Also, consider a regular Facebook Live lesson to keep kids and families connected. Companion resources for the lessons can be e-mailed ahead of time as a reminder to join in. Consider offering a virtual training for parents to use the material and lead a lesson at home. If internet connection is an issue for the church or your families, consider teaching a lesson on a conference call.
• View free conference call and other online resources at the EOC website link on page 3.
4. Equip parents to support their children in this unprecedented time. There are many helpful sources online to guide parents as they support children through the change and anxiety they may be feeling.
5. Stay connected. Those relationships that our children have with significant adults from church are critical for their spiritual formation in later years (and now). Consider having these leaders write encouraging notes to students. Or consider hosting an online gathering (Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc.) for the students and teachers to come together. If internet is an issue for your church or families, consider having a conference call with the children.
• View free conference call and other online resources at the EOC website link on page 3.
6. Practice Safe Sanctuaries while online. Discipleship Ministries recently published the article, “11 Suggestions for Following Safe Sanctuaries Guidelines Online,” that we all should put into practice.
• View the article at the link on page 3.

Creative Ideas from Across the East Ohio Conference
• Use social media to provide ideas, encouraging notes and activities for families to do that are
screen-free and get children outside.
• Have an online gathering for children and have a scavenger hunt. Each attendee is challenged to find
certain things in their home and bring them back to the meeting.
• Hold a daily meet-up time in an online gathering platform. Have devotions, prayer and conversation
with whomever shows up.
• Because the curriculum resources may be laying unused at the church, mail them to families or have
volunteers deliver them to the families’ porches. That way families can use the materials at home for
family faith formation.
• Encourage families when they take walks around the neighborhood to carry sidewalk chalk with them
so that they can leave encouraging messages for friends and neighbors.

Vacation Bible School (VBS) During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Making Decisions in Phase 1 of Reopening EOC Church Buildings
1. Check State of Ohio guidelines. Pay close attention to the State guidelines for when and how many people can gather. Also check with the local health department about its direction and guidelines around holding VBS, if you plan to move ahead.
2. Consider moving VBS. If you have scheduled your VBS for early in the summer, consider moving it to July or August when restrictions may be lifted. You may also want to consider moving VBS to the fall and using it as a kick-off for fall programming or holding VBS during Christmas break.
3. Go Virtual. One option that many churches are considering for VBS is going virtual. This may mean recording your own VBS elements and posting them for families to stream, or live streaming the VBS elements. Packets of materials can be passed out in a drive-by pick-up or dropped off on participants’ porches. Look to both Cokesbury and Group Publishing, as they are providing resources to help make virtual VBS possible for their respective 2020 releases.

Ministry with Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Suggestions for Use in Phase 2 of Reopening EOC Church Buildings
1. Check in with your volunteers. Even though restrictions may be lifted, and we can gather in smaller groups, some volunteers may not be comfortable participating. Some may have compromised family members at home or be in high-risk categories themselves. Affirm their choices and encourage them to participate when they feel the time is right.
2. Clean, clean, clean. Before you begin gathering groups of children together, make sure the spaces they use are cleaned well and disinfected. Because the virus may live for a time on surfaces, consider removing anything that is unnecessary from the space so it will not have to be cleaned and disinfected later.
3. Plan for social distancing and avoiding the spread of germs. Take time to think through the various program elements of your time with the children and plan for activities that avoid close contact or shared resources. Some things to think through are masking children and leaders, how to greet one another, restroom procedures, snacks or no snacks, keeping distance during activities, and more.
4. Let parents know of your plans. Before any gatherings take place, let the parents of children who may participate know of your preparations and plans. That way they can make an informed decision whether as to whether or not their child will participate.
5. Gather in small groups. If restrictions require our groups to be small in number, consider having a pre-registration for any gathering you may have. That way you will not be overrun with children looking forward to a church experience, only to be turned away. You may want to consider holding several small groups to accommodate children who want to participate.
6. Allow time for children to talk about their experience. When we gather with the children, consider allowing time to debrief how COVID-19 has affected their lives. Be ready to encourage them with prayer and scripture.

Helpful Links
East Ohio Conference Non-Traditional Worship Ideas
https://www.eocumc.com/coronavirus/nontraditionalworshipideas.html

Discipleship Ministries Safe Sanctuaries Online Guide
https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/safe-sanctuaries-supporting-a-shift-to-online-youth-ministry-meetings

Cokesbury Knights of North Castle Resources for At-Home VBS
https://2020.cokesburyvbs.com/tools/resources

Group’s Rocky Railway Online VBS Guide

Now Available: Rocky Railway Online VBS Guide!

11 Suggestions for Following Safe Sanctuaries Guidelines Online

As we continue to move forward in ministry during the COVID – 19 pandemic, many folks have turned to having gatherings using various online platforms like ZOOM, Google Hangouts and others.   These are great ways to keep the relationships strong and the flow of ministry moving forward.   As we do so, there are some Safe Sanctuaries “best practices” to keep in mind as we go online.  Discipleship Ministries recently published an article, “11 Suggestions for Following Safe Sanctuaries Guidelines Online” that we all should put in to practice.

https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/safe-sanctuaries-supporting-a-shift-to-online-youth-ministry-meetings

Faith in A Box

In order to make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, one must reach outside of the church to ensure that all are led to faith.  Church is a gathering of faith and as society moves at faster speeds, commitments increase, and time for worship is no longer a guarantee on Sunday, it becomes our ministry to extend ourselves beyond the walls of the church. We want to provide all families with faith opportunities that allow for growth and desire to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. So how do we effectively do this in a way that is nonthreatening, engaging, and valuable?

For Advent this past year, I created, Journey to Bethlehem, Family Faith in a Box activities for each week of Advent. The activities began on Sunday and could continue throughout the week. The family would light their Advent Wreath and pray the included prayer together. They had a bible verse to look up each day until Christmas, adding an ornament to the included tree with the corresponding day.  A small donkey was moved along the path to Bethlehem each day as well.  Then, each week there was a focus for the week and an activity to do as a family.  The activities were designed to promote faith discussions at home and share Christ’s love at school, work, or other areas of the community. Each box contained all of the written directions, the prayers, and materials needed to complete them. A list of extra activities were included offering suggested books, projects, or faith experiences if they chose. The boxes were well received and many commented on how much they enjoyed doing the activities as a family.

For Lent this year, I have created Crown and Cross, Journey to Calvary, Family Faith in a Box. This concept is the same with the focus on Lent. There are scripture verses to look up each day, with a mosaic to color along the way. Each week begins with a scripture to read, a written reflection to share, a prayer, and something to add to the wooden cross, included in the kit. There is then a focused activity for the week based on the scripture. All six Sundays of Lent are included as well as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. All the materials needed are included in the box.

I will also be creating boxes for summer, Jesus Likes Vacation Too! As times change and priorities change, I feel it is necessary to reach our families and help them to grow in faith. This box is not all that faith is about, but it certainly provides experiences to foster and develop faith growth in the home.  We meet them where they are, and offer to be ministers of faith in the ways that we can.  This is how we will grow our churches, by growing faith in the home first.

If you are interested in learning more about the Faith in a Box Activity, would like to implement this program into your church, or want to discuss further, please feel free to contact me, Jenny Rodriguez at jrodriguez@chardonumc.org or at 440-856-5565.