â€˜Back 2 School BASH' unites churches, community
In 2007, two next-door-neighbor churches in Pace, Fla. â€”Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church and Covenant Church of God â€” collaborated to hold a fun day and give free bags of school supplies to students from neighboring Pea Ridge Elementary School.
Five years later, the "Back 2 School BASH" each August is a major community party drawing 4,500 people from as far as 60 miles away. In 2010, 110 businesses and organizations helped sponsor the Bash with 70 on site, offering gifts, services, fun activities and generous prizes.
Bags stuffed with pencils, paper, folders, rulers and more went to 1,700 elementary-school-age children.
The two churches, each with fewer than 100 members, "raise the money to buy most of the school supplies and then add whatever we can get donated," said the Rev. Mark Dees, Wesley Memorial pastor.
"It's all about the kids," said Dave Mawhinney, Wesley's volunteer recruiter and coordinator. "We have wonderful, wonderful sponsors who spend their own money to show up and give to the kids. Everything is free."
In 2010, local cosmetology students gave 127 haircuts. A grocery store served 2,000 hot dogs, while a snow-cone machine owner gave out 700 icy treats. The hospital offered free medical screenings. Crafts, horse rides, balloon rides and demonstrations of all kinds filled the three-hour event. Onstage entertainment included local baton twirlers, dancers and music groups.
Door prizes ranged from a limousine ride on the first day of school to cash.
"It's turned into an amazing event," Dees said. "This is a God-thing because there's no way two little churches could pull off something like this. It's even being compared to the county fair."
"The first couple years I had trouble recruiting volunteers," Mawhinney recalled. "Now people come to me: â€˜Reserve our spot!'" The volunteers are diverse, ranging from high school students to local law-enforcement officials.
In the week before the Bash, about 80 volunteers of all ages from the churches and community, including some from an assisted-living center, gather assembly-line fashion to fill the bags.
"The packaging takes a lot of work, but it's very fun," said 9-year-old Kaitlyn Flint from Wesley Memorial. "You get to be with your friends."
The Wednesday evening before the event, members of both churches get together and walk the property, praying it will be used for God's glory.
Every year, the weather is a big issue, Mawhinney said. "The thing that is so awesome is that God has it under control."
Thunderstorms two years ago delivered 2Â½ inches of rain on the day of the Bash. "We prayed and asked God to put an umbrella over us," Dees said, "and it didn't rain on us!"
"Last year we finished the Bash at 1 p.m., put everything away by 3 and then the skies opened up and there was a deluge out there," Mawhinney added.
The Bash has gained community favor for the congregations, Dees said. "It's brought unity in the church and excitement, knowing that we are showing love to the community, and a sense of peace, knowing that we are doing what God wants.
"Such a good relationship with the church next door has been a blessing."
Diane G. H. Kilmer, freelance writer, Nashville, Tenn.
Photos courtesy Mark Dees, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.
AT A GLANCE Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church | 4701 School Lane, Pace, FL 32571 | (850) 994-6213 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.gbgm-umc.org/pacewesleyum| Rev. Mark Dees | Average Worship Attendance: 88 | Alabama-West Florida Conference
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