New MOPS ministry is a game-changer for parents during COVID
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
Being a member of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) was a game-changer for Marisa Caster. The group provided her with an instant community of other moms – and gave them all a space to connect at church. But when her family moved to Dayton, Caster could not find a MOPS group. Instead, she decided to start one of her own at FUMC Dayton.
Being a mom can make it hard to go to church, Caster explained. She remembers being so busy at times, that Easter and Christmas were some of the few services she could make. “I had my hands full,” she explained.
That’s when MOPS came in. “The first time I was able to come back to church it was for a MOPS meeting,” Caster recalled. “And it’s hard to explain how important that is.”
MOPS is an international organization, founded in 1973, that equips mothers of young children to realize their potential in relationship with Jesus and in partnership with their church. Caster explained that MOPS follows a curriculum and hosts service projects. Meetings coincide with the school year.
“MOPS is especially important for stay-at-home moms who may go a couple of days without talking to someone who’s taller than our knees and who may or may not be able to use complete sentences,” Caster said with a laugh.
The group at her former church home had been welcoming and impactful. She missed it when moving away.
Caster had been attending FUMC Dayton for a few years and taught Sunday School. Because the
church did not have a MOPS group, she drove to Kingwood or Crosby to attend meetings there.
Then, she asked Rev. Pastor Guy Williams if there were any closer to home. “He was like, ‘What is MOPS?’ and started asking all about it,” she recalled.
The pastor was open to starting a group at the church, but Caster was hesitant to launch it herself. Her friend Emily Karrer changed her mind. “Let’s do it. I’ll help,” Karrer said.
“We were all set to do it – and then COVID happened,” Caster said.
But instead of giving up, the group went virtual. Moms were invited to pick up activity packets on the church porch.
The first meeting, only one mom showed up, but Caster persevered. “Moms need other moms,” she said.
Since then, the group has grown. Members started meeting face-to-face in January, and they just started their second school year.
All mothers are invited to join, regardless of the age of their children. There are “Mentor Moms” with older kids who have “been there and done that,” Caster explained. They offer guidance for newer mothers.
Church membership is not required. “It caters to the moms in our church – and the moms who don’t know Jesus,” Caster said.
In fact, one of the points of the ministry is to create a low-barrier entry to church. Childcare is provided. “And all you have to do is just come be you,” Caster said. “You don’t have to dress up. You can come in your yoga pants.”
This is a way for mothers to come to church without having to keep children quiet in the pews, Caster added. “There’s no pressure,” she said. “MOPS is a great way to help moms feel more comfortable walking into church.”
The mothers alternate between crafting together and hosting guest speakers. Pastor Williams also meets with the group for Easter and Christmas special sermons. There are also playdates and enjoy mothers night outs on the MOPS calendar.
“Our church is really supportive,” Caster said. “They are very family-minded, and they are always looking for ways to meet the needs of young families.”
She added that more and more young families are joining the church, as the area grows and develops.
FUMC Dayton strives to be welcoming, Pastor Williams said. Spending time understanding community needs and changes in its make-up are essential at the church.
Continuing to grow despite pandemic
In addition to starting MOPS during the pandemic, the church has added a new program -- Bags of Grace. The drawstring bags, filled with nonperishables, a fleece blanket, water, hygiene kit and a gift certificate to McDonald’s, are provided to homeless and in-need individuals. In a time of increased need, Williams said that the Bags of Grace equip church leaders to help.
In the midst of COVID-19, FUMC Dayton found ways to continue connecting to members. For instance, the church offers a Friends In Deed ministry, helping students through the school year. A nurse at Dayton ISD (DISD) identifies children in need, and the church rallies around them with clothing, school supplies, devotionals and hygiene kits.
That program continued during the pandemic – and all four distributions went without a hitch. “That was something we were able to keep on doing,” Williams said.
While FUMC had to postpone its normal back-to-school meal with DISD faculty and staff in 2020, the church reprised the tradition this year. “It felt so good to be back,” Williams said. “We missed this last year.”
New members actually began attending FUMC Dayton during COVID. “We’ve had some of our most involved people in the church come during the pandemic,” Williams said. “Neighbors were inviting people they knew were ready to find a church home. It was the right timing.”
The church is still offering livestreams. In fact, what started as a necessity during the pandemic has turned into a full-fledged media ministry, Williams said. “We discovered being online was a good opportunity for ministry,” he explained.
Attendance and church programs have steadily increased in the past year. “It’s been a gradual build-up,” Williams said.
FUMC Dayton continues to find ways to stay connected to the community. “The pandemic didn’t stop that from happening,” Williams said. “In some respects, it gave us new opportunities to do it.”
Seeing new members join, previous programs continue, and new ministry flourish gave the pastor hope. “God is still moving through us to help people,” he said. “It’s been good to see that God is working.”
FUMC Dayton has a long history of serving, Williams added. “That spirit hasn’t gone anywhere during the pandemic,” he said.