First United Methodist Church uses outdoor fun and fellowship to bring nearby students together
By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
LANSING, Ill (September 14, 2021) – The image of 200-plus teenagers playing outdoor basketball, volleyball, eating food, laughing, and simply enjoying themselves in the First United Methodist Church parking lot was a sight unseen for more than a year and a half. What was routinely one of the hottest places for Thornton Fractional South students to hang out on Wednesdays in 2019 evaporated much like many social settings during COVID. But at least for the time being, happy times are here again for Walk Over Wednesdays.
“If someone would have told me that it would take this long for things to get back to semi-normal, I would not have believed them,” said Pastor Dave Price from First United Methodist Church in Lansing. “We were so excited to see the kids again; some who were sophomores when we last saw them who are now seniors, and others who are freshmen and sophomores that we never met because of everything that happened.”
Everything that happened refers to the combination of shutdowns, hybrid, or at-home learning that became the standard nationwide when coronavirus ravaged the country and schools had to adjust on the fly.
Walk Over Wednesdays at FUMC
Every Wednesday, First United Methodist Church and Increasing Faith Ministries combine to offer Walk Over Wednesday, a weekly event starting at 1:40 p.m. where TF South students can go out with friends, talk to church members, play games, dance, and overall enjoy fellowship.
The church is walking distance from the high school, and because TF South teachers and staff have professional development on Wednesday afternoons, students are dismissed early. While that might be some students’ idea of a great day, others who have extracurricular clubs and sports have an hour-and-a-half gap between the end of school and the start of those activities. It’s a gap that can mean the difference between staying focused and entertained or getting in trouble.
Starting a tradition
The idea morphed from the church’s Thirsty Thursdays — an initiative started by church members where they would bring drinks over to TF South, and after serving 400 cups they would run out. The church enjoyed connecting with the teens, so they considered hosting a Wednesday afternoon gathering once a month. They were prepared for a few dozen the first time they started in 2019. On the first day more than 140 students turned up. Then it became tradition. Then COVID happened.
“When TF South went virtual, we had to stop seeing the kids, which was difficult because it made our day interacting with them every Wednesday,” said Price. “You can tell COVID really hit the students hard and they were ready to just be out with their friends and come together.”
Church officials desired to bring the event back this year but also wanted to make sure the students remained safe. Church volunteers wear masks throughout the event, and the plan is to keep it outside for as long as possible. They traded having an indoor/outdoor setting for simply outdoors with sports, free food such as hotdogs and popcorn, and games. Levar Young, a pastor at Increasing Faith Ministries also displays his DJ skills during the time.
FUMC partnered with Ace Pizza in Lansing to get reduced prices on slices that are sold for $1. A recent event had the church doling out 140 bags of popcorn and more than 19 gallons of lemonade.
“We are thankful that we are able to serve the community and just be an outlet for the students,” said Robert Wood, First United Methodist Church trustee. “It is a pleasure to just interact with them. It has been good for them, and it has been good for us. We have parents coming to us and thanking us for establishing this program and giving their children an outlet after school.”
First United Methodist Church is located at 18420 Burnham Avenue in Lansing.
- ‘Walk Over Wednesdays’ fill the gap (February 6, 2019)