Community United Methodist looks to spread joy, hope with youth ministries

For Pastor Curtis Olsen, there is one memory from the past year that he won’t be forgetting any time soon. With the uncertainty around COVID-19, the Easter worship for the Community United Methodist Church was held outdoors to help participants maintain some social distancing and allow them to feel more comfortable. During the service, Olsen remembers looking out from the stage that had been set up and seeing kids running around and playing in the grass in the back.

“Knowing that laughter and seeing some of the youth be able to see each other on that day and just celebrate,” Olsen said, “there was just so much joy in people coming together where they felt comfortable being able to worship together.”

The church tries to offer a variety of services to children of all ages, and it doesn’t limit participation to members of the church. Olsen said the goal is to be as welcoming as possible and to help and serve everyone the church can. Along with the weekly activities like Sunday worship, Community United Methodist offers other special events like vacation bible school, mobile camp and more seasonal events like the pumpkin carving it recently hosted.

All of these programs are built upon the idea of letting Columbia’s youth know that they have an organization nearby that is willing to help them during what has been a tumultuous year and a half and during other transitional periods in their lives. Community United Methodist also has several dedicated areas with different activities geared toward different age groups so that the church can act almost as a community center where kids can gather and have fun at times during the week.

The church also started a program called Tags of Hope in 2017 that has served hundreds of foster children in the area, providing foster families or children access to clothes, shoes, toys and even bikes if they ever need them.

Community United Methodist is a winner of this year’s Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to Youth category. The awards recognize Boone County businesses and organizations that have exhibited and promoted kindness during the past year.

Missouri Business Alert spoke with Olsen about Community United Methodist and its efforts to show kindness. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: What do you think are the best examples of how your organization embodies kindness?

Curtis Olsen: Whether you’re here on a Sunday morning worshiping or we just connect with each other, in the community or beyond, we’ve always made it an emphasis to be kind. Part of that is being lived out of our vision, which is “called to love, led to serve,” and we think one foundational piece of doing that is being kind to everyone. So, when we do different ministries, we always want to be welcoming and kind in that way. We offer up weekly activities for our youth. That’s just a place where anyone is welcome. So, whether you’ve been in the church for a long time or this is your first time, you’re going to be treated with kindness and cared for. Another place that we see it happening a lot is within what we call Tags of Hope. It’s a ministry that we have here at the church now that supports foster families, children and youth when there’s a need for clothes, or toys, or even bikes.

MBA: What were some of the lessons that you learned from the past year and the pandemic?

CO: I think we got to learn that there’s always more than one way to do something. Sometimes it’s OK to try new things. And then how important a relationship is, and just being in conversation with people inviting those times for small group gatherings. We did dinners for eight by Zoom. We had some people just gather together on a Zoom call, and they had lunch together, or they did dinner together. That was just a huge opportunity for people to just feel like they weren’t alone. I think we need to continue to look at how to continue inviting people to activities that just help people connect. And some of it will be online, some of it will be in person. We’ll just continue to look for those ways to connect in new ways now.

MBA: What was one of the best parts of seeing people get back together in groups in person?

CO: I mean, it was a joy just to watch our youth especially give each other high fives, or fist bumps is what we were encouraging, and just the laughter and the joy of seeing each other face to face and being able to just look at each other and say, “Hey, how are you doing?” and check in with one another. You could just see there was some kind of relief of stress. Just having that connection point with a group that a lot of them have been connected to for a while, just being able to gather back together. And then also just being able to run, be outside, have fun with others, just to kind of give them that experience. It was just fun to see. You just knew you were doing the right thing. Trying to do it safely, but getting them back together, the youth just connected. I think through that time where it was a struggle, and it was tough on people, they just found joy and experienced hope that way.

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