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Christian Education Sunday offering grows faith

Woman reading to children

Learn how recent funding through the annual Christian Education Sunday offering has grown faith and then plan for this year’s date, set for August 20.

Content Editor

Each year, the Michigan Conference invites churches to set aside a day to honor their faith formation ministries and celebrate how Christian disciples are being made for the transformation of the world. This day is designated as Christian Education Sunday, and it’s usually held in late summer as children and youth are heading back to school.

Christian Education Sunday gives churches opportunities to acknowledge and pray over teachers and leaders, celebrate VBS ministry over the summer, bless backpacks for students preparing for school, present new Bibles for children and youth, or honor other traditions.

It’s also a time for local churches to bless ministries beyond their walls by receiving an offering that will financially support faith formation throughout the conference. It’s a way to lean into that connectional spirit of United Methodism that is vital to our identity and values.

Children and bookshelf
The children of Lake Harbor UMC had a goal to raise $600 in their Advent Read-a-Thon raising money for the Readers to Leaders campaign, but they ended up bringing in $1,000. A bookshelf graph was put on the wall in the sanctuary to map the money as it came in. People enjoyed watching the bookshelf fill up as the donations came in. ~ photo courtesy Lake Harbor UMC

The faith of children and youth has grown and multiplied through our many ministries, thanks to generous United Methodists, and churches are encouraged to plan for this year’s Christian Education Sunday. The date set by the Michigan Conference is August 20, but churches are welcome to choose a date that works best for them. Many churches plan for it in September.

The Michigan Conference designates several churchwide Special Sundays with offerings to support vital ministries worldwide. Recently, funds from the Christian Education Sunday offering have supported a wide variety of ministries and leadership development opportunities here in Michigan, including an Advent Read-a-Thon fundraiser benefiting the Readers to Leaders campaign, a VBS kit for rural church ministry in the Upper Peninsula, scholarships for church leaders to attend the Faith for a Lifetime Symposium, and ongoing Kids Min Zoom online gatherings for mutual support and sharing among ministry leaders.

The offering from Christian Education Sunday supports the faith development of the children and youth of the Michigan Conference in two ways. First, it empowers and equips local churches and leaders through grants, resources, and training. The second way is by encouraging faith development by sending children and youth to United Methodist-affiliated camps in Michigan.

Kids doing activities
Lake Harbor UMC had reading/book-themed activities, cookies, and hot cocoa each week for children to enjoy during their Advent Read-a-Thon. A grant from the Michigan Conference helped pay for these resources and activities. ~ photo courtesy Lake Harbor UMC

Last Advent, Lake Harbor UMC in Norton Shores received a grant provided by the Christian Education Sunday offering to fund activities and supplies for a Read-a-Thon that benefited the Michigan Conference’s Readers to Leaders campaign.

The grant money helped purchase children’s books used during the Read-a-Thon and later placed in the sanctuary so children can look at them during worship time. Some of the money was used for supplies for the children to do activities that went along with the reading theme each week, as well as hot cocoa and cookies to make those times special.

Kate Robbins, Christian Education Director at Lake Harbor, noted the impact of the learning: “Supporting the Readers to Leaders program gave us the opportunity to learn about book deserts and the need for books to be in everybody’s world. We learned about God’s young people across the globe who don’t have access to books, or sometimes even water, and that encouraged our kids to gather pledges to help provide books for them.”

The children of Lake Harbor UMC got excited about reading and raising money for this life-affirming campaign promoting literacy and leadership development in schools here in Michigan and in Liberia. And the enthusiasm caught hold of the congregation. “Our goal,” Robbins said, “was to collect $300 in donations for kids reading. We surpassed that goal and brought in a total of $1,000!” It’s a testimony of the beautiful spirit of generosity within our Michigan Conference churches and the multiplication of blessings that flow from it.

Children enjoying VBS
Children at Vacation Bible School at Engadine UMC learned about God calling us as heroes to follow Jesus, help others, work together, listen to God, and show grace. ~ photo courtesy Engadine UMC

Engadine UMC, one of the seven churches in God’s Country Cooperative Parish in the Upper Peninsula, received a Hero Hotline Vacation Bible School kit this spring, thanks to funding from the Christian Education Sunday offering.

Engadine UMC partnered with three other area churches—Christian Fellowship Churches of Mackinac County, Wildwood Mennonite Church, and Calvary Bible Church of the Eastern Upper Peninsula. An average of 43 children with over 20 volunteers met for five days for VBS, June 12-16, 2023, at Engadine, which served as the host church.

The VBS memory verse was Romans 14:19: “So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up” (CEB), and the theme was on being called by God to be part of the “Hero Hotline Headquarters,” where everyone’s gifts are valued and every hero has a role to play. The children heard stories from the Bible, the ultimate “Hero Handbook,” for examples set by unlikely heroes, ranging from Shiphrah, Puah, and Miriam to the magi.

The VBS experience culminated in a program for parents and caregivers, including sharing each day’s theme, Bible verse, and several songs the children learned. The children also got to meet local heroes from the community by interacting with members of fire departments, EMS, and law enforcement. The children enjoyed sitting in fire trucks and ambulances, turning on sirens and lights, and pretending to be emergency and safety heroes for a day.

Children visiting with local heroes
Children attending VBS at Engadine UMC got to meet some local heroes, too, during the closing program. The children had fun sitting in emergency vehicles and imagining what it would be like to be a firefighter, police officer, or ambulance driver. ~ photo courtesy Engadine UMC

Rev. Jackie Roe, pastor of Engadine and Newberry UMCs and Director of God’s Country Cooperative Parish, expressed gratitude to the Michigan Conference and all those churches around the state that collected a Christian Education Sunday offering. “This kit was appreciated and put to good use in sharing about God’s heroes,” she said. “Children from age 4 to 12 had a great time learning about and experiencing the love of God. Thank you for this VBS kit!”

On July 11-12, 2023, thirteen faith formation leaders representing eight United Methodist churches from the Michigan Conference attended the Faith for a Lifetime Symposium outside Chicago. A grant provided by the Christian Education Sunday offering helped them attend this event at a discounted rate.

The two-day symposium, sponsored by Lifelong Faith Associates, focused on how to build a culture of lifelong faith growth in today’s world. The event gave the thirteen leaders from the Michigan Conference an excellent opportunity for professional development and networking with other faith leaders.

Faith leaders attending event
Michigan Conference faith formation leaders recently attended a symposium in the Chicago area. Front row, left to right: Audrey Kawel (Grand Rapids: First UMC), Elizabeth Zick (Grand Rapids: First UMC), Erica Kozlowski (Traverse City: Central UMC), Samantha Carroll (Eaton Rapids: First UMC), Jeanne Franks (Chelsea UMC), and Rev. Kathy Pittenger. Back row, left to right: Rev. Seok Lim (Essexville: St. Luke’s UMC), Kristina Rinderspacher (Portage: Pathfinder UMC), Kerri DeZwaan (Georgetown UMC), Rev. Hillary Thurston-Cox (Ludington: United UMC), SK Osborn (Ludington: United UMC), Rev. Joy Barrett (Chelsea UMC), Susan Adam-Rita (Chelsea UMC). This represents leaders from eight Michigan United Methodist churches. ~ photo courtesy Rev. Kathy Pittenger

Inviting guest speakers for Kids Min Zoom is another aspect of leadership development supported by the Christian Education Sunday offering. Rev. Kathy Pittenger, Michigan Conference staff member, continues to facilitate Kids Min Zoom during the school year and can occasionally bring in special guests or experts.

These online gatherings of mutual learning and support have been a source of encouragement for faith leaders in the Michigan Conference. Kendi Holcomb-Densmore, Director of Faith Formation at South Lyon: First UMC, said, “Kid Min Zooms help me connect with other faith leaders for support, encouragement, and mentoring. The generous idea and resource sharing multiplied the ministry opportunities and innovations available to my local church.” Rachel McCollum, Co-Director of Early Years Faith Formation at Ann Arbor: First UMC, noted the camaraderie she experienced: “Sometimes, this job can feel like you’re on a lone island, but with the Kids Min Zooms, I remember I’m not alone and that I do have a safe and supportive community to turn to when I need advice, a fresh perspective, or a new idea.”

These inspiring stories are just a few ways Michigan United Methodists come together for ministry support related to faith formation. How can you join them? How does your congregation grow faith, and how can you celebrate God’s work in their lives? Take time to honor them on Christian Education Sunday this year, and consider financially supporting others through the annual special offering.

Are you interested in learning more about the faith formation grants available to churches? Review this downloadable form and then contact Rev. Kathy Pittenger at [email protected] if you have further questions. Grant applications are due on March 1, July 1, and November 1 and will be reviewed within 30 days of each deadline.

Last Updated on November 9, 2023

The Michigan Conference