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Photo by Karen Miller

Bob Peeples (right) serves water, snacks -- and smiles -- to high school students gathering in the parking lot of Boone Hill United Methodist Church.

Parking lot ministry reaching teens

By Christine Kumar
March-April 2017

It Worked for Us

The Rev. Steve Garner happily removed the "no parking" sign from the church lot.

"How would anyone think (Boone Hill United Methodist Church) was a welcoming place to worship or feel safe with a sign saying stay out or be towed being the first greeting a visitor would see?" Garner asked.

The sign came down in December 2015 at the church in Summerville, South Carolina.

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In the year since, students from the high school next door have parked in the lot for free. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the church offers water, snacks and encouragement to the teens. On Wednesdays, church members "pray up" each car in the parking lot and others that drive by, said Lisa Garner, the pastor's wife, asking for safety for all the young drivers and their friends.

Steve Garner wanted to build relationships with the students. At first, the teens apprehensively accepted the free drinks and snacks. The free parking surprised them, too, because at one time they had to pay to park there. "Some asked why we were doing this," said Garner. "And our answer was simply that we loved them."

More and more students now come to the parking lot, including some who are waiting for their parents to pick them up. Parents have thanked the church for its hospitality. One parent said her son was interested in joining her at worship. Some other students have begun participating in church activities and services.

"When we first started this, it was purely an outreach with relation building as the goal," Steve Garner said. "But, the Holy Spirit has moved us and the students in a different direction." Students and church members alike benefit from the relationship. "Our once forbidden parking lot is now full of cars, life and love," he said.

"It Worked for Us" is written by Christine Kumar, a freelance writer and administrator, Baltimore Metropolitan District, Baltimore-Washington Conference.