Snow Day Draws Community Youth to First UMC Jasper
When you are a youngster living in east Texas, the “best day is a snow day,” according to Rev. Fred Willis of First UMC Jasper. “As our leaders discussed what we could do for the children of Jasper during Advent, this idea of a snow day emerged and even became our event T-shirt theme.”
Much to the joy of about 600 youngsters, 40,000 lbs of manmade snow helped transform First UMC Jasper into a winter wonderland that included two ice slides. “The goal was to create a special memory for the children of Jasper, and I am certain that we did that for residents of all ages,” he adds. “We limited the snow play to those 10 and under and I heard no complaints from our middle and high school youth. In fact I would say they were stellar hosts and hostesses, catching kids at the bottom of the slides, serving hot dogs and keeping the snow fluffed! They were essential helpers and were rewarded with plenty of smiles and contagious laughter.”
Other members participated by painting backdrops, making popcorn and finding and coordinating a long list of sponsors who offset the expenses and made Snow Day a true community highlight. “Partnering with the local Chamber of Commerce and businesses is a win-win in the relationship building category,” adds Fred.
The local buzz” from the event was evidenced in the attendance and media coverage. “Years ago, the perception was that Methodist churches in the county seat were churches where rich people attended,” says Fred, “but after a few years of youth-centered act
ivities and events, First UMC Jasper is known as the church that does great things for kids.” Therefore, about 20% of the congregation is under the age of 18.
A church, regardless of its size, can host special events in partnership with area organizations and sponsors in a way that they can be free to the public. “We can’t be afraid to fail or we will never try anything," Fred advises. At very little expense, First UMC Jasper publicized Snow Day through the schools this year, and attached the event information to candy canes and handed them out at the Chamber of Commerce Christmas in the Park event. “We are learning to live into our vision of inviting others to serve with us,” he says. “And, we can stay in touch with many of the participants because they gave us contact information so they can receive their family pictures with our Snow Day Santa.”
The congregation of First UMC Jasper has recently been divided into S-Teams (Service) with a dozen or so family units in each. “The whole idea is to get more people serving others, so our groups will covenant together to do something for someone else at least four times in the next year,” adds Fred. Meanwhile the older youth will be planning a summer version of a snow day – a four-day spiritual retreat in the Colorado mountains, complete with zip-lining and other youth-sized activities.
By the end of 2014, the East Texas weathercasters know to predict at least one Snow Day in December, as the First UMC Jasper-inspired tradition continues on with expectations of 1,000 in attendance for the next Miracle on Lindsey Street!