MONTVILLE – They may be only three to eleven-years-old but at such a young age they are already learning valuable life lessons at the Montville United Methodist Church’s Sunday School program. In addition to listening during story time, sharing books and interacting with puppets, these youngsters are witnessing how to “love our neighbors” with acts of service.
“The United Methodist Church believes in serving others as it’s written in the Book of James in the Bible. So we teach this to the children from a very young age,” added Renee Gilbert, Children’s Christian Education Coordinator.
Gilbert, along with fellow Children’s Christian Education Coordinator Kristin Zerden, have incorporated mission projects into Sunday School lessons and special events. Some of their most recent service events have included making pine cone turkey centerpieces for Saint Albert Residential Health Care Facility in Montville and a ‘Santa and Me’ breakfast with an entrance fee of a toy for ‘Toys for Tots.’
“Young kids are like sponges soaking up knowledge and imitating the people around them,” said Rev. Heather Valosin of Montville UMC. “This is a perfect time to teach them to love our neighbors with acts of service as Galatians 5:13 says, ‘through love serve one another.’ We hope to instill in them a lifelong willingness to serve the needs that they see around them.”
According to Valosin, the initiative for this type of learning at the Sunday School “came out of our strategic planning through Team Vital the summer of 2015.”
“This congregation has been faithfully serving the community for decades by feeding the hungry, building friendships with residents of an assisted living facility, and creating a thrift store,” she said.
“Team Vital helped us imagine the possibilities of involving children in mission work. It is a delight to see the kids learning to embody the Christian faith. The kids simply enjoy being together and knowing that they are helping others as they follow Jesus’ teachings about the greatest commandments.”
Hundreds of churches across GNJ have participated in Team Vital, an initiative that helps leaders create a strategic ministry plan using the five markers of vitality. Each church receives individual technical support, monthly consulting and other resourcing opportunities. Churches learn from each other, collaborate, support and hold each other accountable to pursue their ministry plans. The next Team Vital session is scheduled for Fall 2018 and congregations should start the application process now. The deadline for Fall applications is July 1.
Gilbert said that the Sunday School students range in age from three to eleven-years-old. She teaches the three to eight-year-olds while Zerden instructs the nine to eleven-year-olds. The classes meet every week during church after the children’s sermon and lessons are incorporated as appropriate.
“We only have about 40 minutes of class time. We have story time using flannel boards, books and puppets. We have a game to emphasize the story such as a teaching working together with others to accomplish a task. We then make something that is given to others. We always do a prayer at the end to pray for others; we call this the 3 P’s – Preaching (teaching), Practice (Kids-in-Mission service) and Praying,” she said.
Valosin reiterated her hope from the Sunday School teachings to the young children is that as adults “we are trying to live faithfully as Christians and raise younger generations to do so as well.”
“When Paul says we are all part of the Body of Christ, kids are part of the Body too with their own valuable gifts. It’s a learning experience for both kids and adults as we work together to put our faith into action,” she added.
Some examples of the children’s faith put into action include a Halloween Harvest party last year in which the kids collected CD’s for children in various hospitals and valentines made for residents at the Saint Albert Residential Health Care Facility. Gilbert added that they are thinking about a trip to the Montville Food Pantry in which the children will deliver food donations they have collected.
“We are hoping to start growth in a generation that truly believes in JOY – Jesus first, Others Next and then Yourself. The adults are learning from the children as they are observing their projects and much of the time they participate in the Kids-in-Mission projects with the children,” Gilbert said.
She explained how essential it is to teach young children the importance of serving others with leading by example.
“Teaching Jesus’ love involves teaching love and caring to everyone and part of that caring involves sharing and serving others without expecting any reward,” Gilbert said. “Teaching empathy right away as soon as possible is vital so it becomes a natural response to others’ needs as they grow.”
Montville UMC is located at 29 Whitehall Road in Towaco, NJ. For more information about the church’s Sunday School program, call 973-334-1603 or visit www.montvilleumc.org. For more information about Team Vital and how it helps congregations on the path to vitality, go to www.gnjumc.org/teamvital.