Knox pastor rejoices in back-to-school party for foster kids

Knox pastor rejoices in back-to-school party for foster kids

"We set up everything in a storefront fashion and invited the kids to 'shop' by choosing their favorite backpack and filling it with school supplies."

By Sarah Varnell

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 1, 2017) -- "I want to be President!" the rising 5th grader said.

"President of what?" quipped her foster brother.

"Of the United States of America, but I'll start with my school," she replied.

And with that, her family was called upon to enter the church to pick out a backpack and fill it with the needed school supplies.

On Aug. 6, St. Paul United Methodist Church of Fountain City partnered with Holston Home for Children for a "Back to School" party for foster families in our area supported by Holston Home. As pastor, I got to enjoy the event while our mission committee, chaired by Rev. Pat Clendenen and other volunteers, stayed busy making the event go smoothly.

I spent my time walking from table to table and striking up conversations with questions like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Kids are full of wonderful surprises. There were aspiring doctors, superheroes, firefighters, teachers, and even a hopeful Stormtrooper.

The party was fairly simple in concept: We provided food, recreation and supplies for school. For the last month our congregation has been preparing for the event by scooping up all of the deals on backpacks and supplies in our area. We set up everything in a storefront fashion and invited the kids to "shop" by choosing their favorite backpack and filling it with items needed for a successful school year.

A few months earlier we had invited a representative from Holston Home for Children to share with us about their foster-care program. Someone asked the question, "How can we more fully connect with Holston Home?" The party, the work of the committee, and the faithfulness of our church family became the fruit of that question!

So, after a month of preaching the lectionary on Jesus' parables ("The Kingdom of God is like … a bit of yeast in flour, a pearl of great price, a treasure hidden in the field, a sower sowing seed”), this preacher couldn't help but see the amazing glimpse of God's kingdom right before her very eyes. On the Sunday morning of our party, the sermon concluded with, "The Kingdom of God is like a disciple who asked a question about connecting and a few months later, we have a collection of backpacks and school supplies."

In the moment, that felt good and right, especially as we received Holy Communion together and prayed blessings over the backpacks and supplies. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the weeks we were working on this project, and then I felt it again that evening when a little girl said, "I want to be President of the United States of America." I realized then that the kingdom of God might just be like a foster child, who gets a backpack and a sense of worth from God's people. And then one day, in the mysterious and wonderful timing of God, that child grows up to change the world as we know it for the sake of Christ.

Thanks be to God for Holston Home for Children! Thanks be to God for St. Paul UMC and our sister churches who are invited to participate and support their faithful mission with children and families.

Thanks be to God that our Bishop has challenged us to especially remember the children in our work and ministry together.

 The Rev. Sarah Varnell is pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church, Fountain City, in Knoxville, Tenn.