Congratulations to Belmont-Watertown United Methodist Church in Massachusetts for being one of two congregations nationwide to be awarded a grant through the See All the People Challenge sponsored by Discipleship Ministries.
The grants are designed to help churches create an intentional system of discipleship and reach people who are outside the church. The other challenge grantee is Radcliff UMC in Radcliff, KY. See a video announcement of the awards on the Discipleship Ministries Facebook page.
Belmont-Watertown UMC will receive $2,500 to help support "Playgroups with a Purpose," which engages families with toddlers through a mission project designed for the capabilities of 3- to 5-year-olds, followed by play. (See the video above).
Cherise Sandrock, Director of Christian Education at Belmont-Watertown, wrote the challenge proposal. In the spring of 2017, Sandrock started a joint playgroup with a local nonprofit family group called “Watertown Family Network.” Families from the network were invited to come to the church gym, share some coffee, and meet families in the congregation.
“We started with a handful of kids and a handful of conversations,” Sandrock wrote. “We are now the largest playgroup in our town, and the largest playgroup that ‘the network’ offers as well.”
"One of the best avenues for a local church to develop new opportunities for ministry is through community partnerships, and Cherise’s passion for serving children and families fits perfectly with the mission of the Watertown Family Network," said the Rev. Gary Richards, pastor at Belmont-Watertown UMC. "Cherise has found creative ways to blend young families from the Network and the church into one new community. The See All the People grant will allow her to contribute more to the partnership and most importantly form new relationships."
About Playgroups with Purpose
The following is from Sandrock's proposal for the See All the People Challenge:
I came up with the concept of “Playgroups with a Purpose — little hands and feet of Jesus” because of the many conversations I have had with the community families that I have met at this playgroup. They told me about barriers for doing mission works when you have kids under 5: A lot of programs have an age requirement, and the ones that don’t, you still may feel that your kids will be more distracting than helpful. I know from experience that when you have children that age, sometimes that is when you rely on our faith the most!
So here is the concept: We would meet once a month at varying locations – parks, playgrounds, splash parks, wildlife sanctuaries. We would start our time together with a toddler-specific mission activity like making Easter baskets for the kids that live in the family shelter in the next town, or coloring placemats for the soup kitchen that our church already serves at once a month. The grant money would provide the opportunity to buy all the supplies needed for the mission projects.
When I floated this idea to the families in our current playgroup, I couldn’t write down all their ideas fast enough in enhance it. A few moms suggested that we hold some of the playgroups at areas where we can invite the families from the shelter to come play with us or have one at the playground at Perkins School for the Blind and be new families and friends to these communities. This is Jesus at work. I am in awe of these families, who are not church members, wanting to help me start a program that not only will create disciples, but the process of creating this concept is making disciples as well.
A grandmother that brings her grandson to our playgroup, donates to church programming, comes to all children events, also came to our Easter Egg Hunt on Easter Sunday. I was happy to see her and told her so. She said if she went to a church, she would pick ours because of all the good we do, but she doesn’t believe in organized religion. I told her that I hated to break it to her, but she is already part of our church family. She gave me a big hug. I know that is God at work through me and through BWUMC.
In the proposal, Sandrock described BWUMC as “a merged congregation of two traditional Methodist churches, we are a congregation on a journey to be and become a more vibrant church actively engaged in many aspects of our communities, not just focused on the people in our pews. We are now in the process of implementing some of this work, called Vision 2020. We are always mindful that what we do is in service to our mission: Renew God’s spirit in us, Reflect Jesus through love of one another, Restore God’s gifts through service.”