Confirmation classes engage in competition to help those in need

Date Posted: 12/9/2021

By Lindsay Peyton
The bells were ringing – at both ends of the mall. On Dec. 2, FUMC Bryan’s confirmation class faced off against A&M UMC’s confirmation class. Students from each congregation took turns with a Salvation Army bucket to see which team could raise the most money.
It’s a friendly competition for a worthy cause, Jeff Hobbs, Director of Children and Families Ministries at FUMC Bryan explained. When the results were tallied the following day, his church ended up taking home the trophy. “But I’d be glad to be beaten each year if it helps the Salvation Army,” he explained.
Hobbs started the annual Salvation Army Bell Ringing Challenge eight years ago. One of his students suggested volunteering to ring the bells. “She wanted us to just go serve,” he recalled.
He doesn’t remember how it became a competition – but it was something to do with his former assistant Gwenda Beavers becoming the Director of Children and Family Ministry at A&M UMC. The two always had fun and enjoyed working together, and the two churches often partnered in ventures.
For instance, the confirmation classes go to Lakeview in the summer. “We always buddy up,” Hobbs said. “The kids may go to two different churches but still go to the same school.”
So why not work together to help the Salvation Army for Christmas? Besides, the confirmation classes hand out candy canes and help spread holiday cheer around the mall.
“It’s fun to see the kids just having a ball ringing the bell,” Hobbs said. “It’s definitely something different.”
Beavers recalls when Hobbs asked her to join in the fun. “Jeff is like my brother from another mother,” she said. “I just love him – and all he had to do was ask.”
She jumped on board. “Let’s help someone else and show our children what it means to serve someone else. It was an opportunity to teach them to be servants,” she said.
FUMC Bryan has won every year, except for 2019. “We actually won,” Beavers said with a smile. “We had never won before, and we were so excited.”
The challenge lasts four hours, and students take shifts ringing the bell. “We tell them whenever you can come in within that time, even if its 20 to 30 minutes,” Hobbs said. “We have different kids throughout the night.”
Beavers said that church members young and old come out to support the youth. “I have one grandma who always comes out, brings her check and sings Christmas carols,” she said.
FUMC Bryan’s confirmation class teacher Corey Voskamp and A&M UMC’s Director of Youth Ministry Zac Gilts both attend each year. There are signs around the mall explaining the challenge.
“We also have curbside service for those who don’t want to come in,” Beavers said. “They can just roll up in their cars.”
At the end of the night, no matter who wins the trophy, the Salvation Army takes home the true prize. “We raise some really good money,” Beavers said. “People tend to throw more money in the bucket when they see a cute kid ringing the bell.”
“The Salvation Army loves it,” Hobbs added.
The event is part educational, Hobbs said. The confirmation class visits three different Methodist churches, a Jewish synagogue and a Salvation Army church each year. “We want to show our kids how different congregations worship,” he said.
The students also learn about the importance of outreach and helping others during the challenge. And finally, there’s a bit of evangelism. Every shopper at the mall sees two churches working together to benefit a charity – sharing in the Christmas spirit.