There are ten children registered and attending preschool on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons at the United Methodist Church in Blunt, South Dakota. The congregation recently launched the preschool to serve families living in the rural community of Blunt, population 350.
Pastor Kippy Udehn, who serves the United Methodist congregations at Blunt, Harold, and Highmore, South Dakota, says, “It is so much fun. God has just walked with us every step of the way.”
The preschool spun off of the aftershool program that Blunt UMC started. In February 2018, the congregation in Blunt started The Young Disciples, TYD, an afterschool program. About 25-28 elementary school students are attending the afterschool program each Monday. Thirty-three students attend the elementary school in Blunt, South Dakota.
TYD demonstrated to the congregation and community that the Holy Spirit is at work, and miracles do happen. For example, one of the volunteers at TYD, Courtney Millage, experienced and shared a personal miracle moment. Pastor Udehn and the children had been discussing miracles. In the middle of the discussion, Millage, married with five children, received a text message that the owners of the house that the family was renting from, wanted to give them the house.
“The congregation heard the story and was ready to go to work. They feel empowered by the Holy Spirit,” says Pastor Kippy. “We really did not have any kids in the congregation. That is one of the reason we started the afterschool program. This is a strong faith community ready to listen to the will of God.”
On an average Sunday, there are 14 people in worship at the United Methodist Church. Nine people attend worship sporadically.
“Sometimes, we three adults, and sometimes 12-15 kids in worship service. We are focusing on the children,” says Udehn.
The community is discussing if it is viable to keep the elementary school open. There are staffing challenges. If the elementary school closes, children, including the preschoolers, would travel, 20 miles or 25 minutes to Onida, South Dakota, for school.
Pastor Kippy says, “The TYD staff started thinking. Those kids are too little to ride that far. We started thinking—what can we do?”
One of the TYD volunteers, Janet Bartlett, said, “It is too bad we can’t start a preschool.”
Udehn challenged Barlett and Millage, saying, “Why can’t we? Let's challenge the congregation on Sunday morning. We have some people with gifts from God to help us offer a preschool in this community.”
The word got out about the idea of a preschool. People stepped up with their gifts from God. The congregation connected with the school.
There is no funding allocated for the preschool. The program started without fees for families. There have been donations from the community to help make it happen.
A key partner for the preschool has been the Baptist Church in Blunt. Bethany Savory, the pastor’s wife at the local Baptist congregation, has worked professionally with early childhood education. She is serving as a volunteer at the preschool.
“God is pulling us together. The church is full of miracles. Every time something happens, all we have to do is look at each other and know that God is at work,” says Udehn. “It is not through us but the Holy Spirit.”
The hope is to have the community step up and own the preschool program. Parents provide snacks and clean. The trustees at Blunt UMC have been busy adding shelves and making improvements as needed. As the program expands, a minimal fee for families will be charged.
Pastor Kippy says, “Parents are so excited. We have total faith that God will provide. The TYD program brought three families and ten kids to the congregation. We know that the preschool is going to touch hearts. We are teaching that Jesus loves the kids.”