Post-COVID, Colonial Heights Church aims to bring light to youngsters
By Karen Carr Keefe
Colonial Heights Free Methodist Church is on a mission: Give kids faith, hope and fun in the church’s upcoming Vacation Bible School.
But the church, at 1310 Saunders Settlement Road, Niagara Falls, has some new and different plans this year.
“We’ve all done Vacation Bible School as a way to reach out and minister to the community, help kids have fun and also help them learn about Jesus, the Lord,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Tim Deeks. “We’ve always done it in the church.”
But this year, in a new approach spurred largely by COVID-19, they are going right out into the community and hold classes in three local parks.
“We’re not convinced that people are ready to come back to an indoor Vacation Bible School,” said Deeks, who has been pastor of the church since March.
The organizers are calling it a “Pop-Up” Vacation Bible School, to be held from 6-7:30 p.m. on successive Wednesday nights this summer. The sessions are:
•July 28 at Gill Creek Park, 3085 Niagara St., Niagara Falls.
•Aug. 4, Veterans Memorial Park, 7000 Lockport Road, Niagara Falls.
•Aug. 11, Sanborn Park, 5811 Buffalo St., Sanborn (behind the firehall).
The Vacation Bible School isn’t just for children in the congregation, but also for any neighborhood kids who want to come, Deeks said. All families participating will also receive a blessing bag full of goodies, including food and personal care items.
Rachel Stevens is the family ministries director at the church and is director of Vacation Bible School. “We tried to pick locations where kids can come out off their street. They don’t have to preregister.”
“Our mission statement is to be a blessing to all families,” Stevens said. A team of more than 15 people is working on VBS, including the pastor’s wife, Linda Deeks, who also is director of the Sanborn-Pekin Free Library. She will be running the science station of the VBS programming. “We are grateful to have her and her experience.”
Stevens said their church is a little bit farther away, “so we wanted to go out into the community that can’t get to us and just show that you can have fun and you can learn about God at the same time.”
“There’s such a darkness going on in the world that we just want to bring a little light and a little bit of Jesus’ love into the community,” she said. “We’re labeling it ‘All are welcome.’ ”
Kids of all ages can participate. Pre-K through middle school is the typical target age, but science lessons and other programming they’ve planned can be enjoyed by teens as well.
“People look at science and they don’t think about God, but God created science. So it does still go hand in hand,” she said.
“One of the unique things about this VBS is that we’re hoping to encourage the parents to stick around with the kids as they go from station to station” during the program, Stevens said.
Different stations at the Bible school will include crafts, Bible adventures and stories, science, snacks and music. Each station will carry a Bible message. Each night there is a specific theme. Week one’s theme is Noah’s Ark. Week two is the Resurrection story.
“Week three, we’re talking about when Jesus calms the storm and that even when we’re afraid, Jesus loves you and Jesus is there,” the director said.
Stevens said she grew up in Niagara Falls.
“When I go into the city, it’s not the city I used to know. It just seems like there’s a lot of unhappiness.” COVID-19 seemed to “put a focus on all the underlying issues that have been going on – just the need to love one another. I think the community is starving for that – to be with each other and to be a community again,” Stevens said.
“We’re excited,” the Rev. Deeks said. “We’re going to really have kind of a church picnic situation at a pavilion at different parks and take the games and the fun and hope that some parents will bring their kids and that we can celebrate and do that same kind of ministering. There will be treats and snacks and prizes and also sharing things they can learn about Jesus and how you get to know him.”
Going outdoors with the sessions can ease any lingering concerns about COVID-19, Deeks said. He added that, like for many gatherings, the pandemic has been tough on attendance for the church’s ministry to both adults and children.
“Not all of our folks that are saying, ‘You’re my church’ have felt ready to come back. In part, children aren’t vaccinated, for instance, so they have to make some difficult decisions,” Deeks said. “I think, too, the pandemic has helped people get out of the habit of going to church, because you do it online.
“In that sense, it’s been hard on the traditional church, but we also have to reach out and have new ways of doing church.”
He said that, while Colonial Heights Free Methodist Church isn’t livestreaming yet, it is posting video of each week’s service on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ColonialHeightsFMC. One can also find out more about the church at https://www.ColonialHeightsFMC.org.
To volunteer to help with Colonial Heights’ VBS, email [email protected] or call 716-297-5320.