On Wednesday, you will find the United Methodist Church buildings bubbling with activity in Plankinton and White Lake, South Dakota. Three children at White Lake UMC shout out: “I want to be a famous wrestler.” “I want to be a famous dancer.” “I want to be like Jesus.”
Pastor Randy Hedge, who serves as the pastor at Plankinton and White Lake United Methodist Churches asks, “If you were famous, what could you do to help people see that God is great?” The activity is just a small part of the road to revitalization that both of the congregations are on.
The United Methodist congregations in Plankinton and White Lake are praying for the Holy Spirit to enter into their lives and bring new ideas, new people, new resources for the ministry. “We have identified champions that will lead us on our journey,” says Hedge. “Our champions are lay members leading us to experience a new life in prayer, first impressions, loving our kids, and conquering financial fears.”
These two churches are part of the Journey Renewal Partnership. Currently the congregations are working on their prescriptions or next steps in ministry. That is where the champions come in. Each of the champions is leading a team to implement strategies for their prescriptions—surrounding ourselves with prayer, creating a good first impression, loving the kids in our community, and conquering our finances.
At 2:45 p.m. each Wednesday, 33 children in grades K-6 hop off the bus and rush into the White Lake UMC building. Seven adult volunteers are waiting to lead the students through snack time, singing, a bible story, and a craft.
“It is so awesome when you see their faces light up,” says Dona Cherry, coordinator for the White Lake children’s program. “That’s when you know they get it!”
At Plankinton UMC, preparation of a meal is underway for the 30 youth, in grades 6-12, that show up each week for worship, singing, praying, and learning. “We have an average of 25-30 youth that attend each week,” says Tara Bush, who serves as the youth coordinator, office administrator, and custodian for the Plankinton congregation. “Pastor Randy has put a challenge out there. If we have 40 youth come, he will do something wacky with his hair.”
Bush explains that the excitement of the youth is contagious and growing. The program consists of mission trips, guitar lessons, worship led by the youth and adult volunteers, offering funds that are governed or distributed by the youth, and participation in Dakotas Conference activities like DakYouth. “We had a bus load of students that attended student night at Dakota Wesleyan University. We are growing and looking at dividing into two groups—middle school and high school.”
There is a team of adult volunteers who are participating in the Dakotas Conference Youth Ministry Cohort, with Stephanie Caro, from Ministry Architects. “We have got a lot of resources from the training,” says Bush. “We have some adult volunteers that are making things happen. We consistently have 4-6 adults here for the kids on Wednesday and a lot of other times.”
It is a joint program—for both Plankinton and White Lake—youth. Three weeks each month a bus brings the youth from White Lake to Plankinton. The fourth Wednesday of the month, Plankinton youth travel to White Lake.
The youth have elected officers and recently proposed a “designated hang out” or lounge with some casual furniture, soft drinks, snacks, and more, for all middle and high school youth in each of the communities. “We hope to have a safe place for youth just to come,” shared two of the youth representatives. “We would use the funds from our offering that we collect each month to fund this project.”
“Our officers are dedicated. They are leaders and want to have a voice in our congregation,” Bush says.
Angela Bosworth, a member of Plankinton UMC, is the champion for “facing our financial fears.” She is facilitating Financial Peace University (FPU) for 15 individuals. “I was nervous that we would not get people to come,” she said. “We had four people sign-up, and then 15 people showed up.”
FPU is held every Monday night for nine weeks. There are babysitters for families with young children. “It is great to see people sharing and opening up during the sessions,” says Bosworth. “I am excited for people to take this step and change their future.”
Bosworth sums up the journey of the congregations this way, “I feel like I am part of the church now. I feel like I am part of making things better and that we are really trying to meet the needs of people around us.”