A snapshot of Asbury First UMC’s children’s ministries
May 25, 2022 / By Paula Dugan, Asbury First Children’s Ministries Director
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the 2022 Issue I of the Advocate, which focused on children and youth throughout the UNY Conference. Click here to access the Advocate.
Asbury First UMC, in Rochester, NY, endeavors to create an open, supportive, and lively environment for our children and youth. These ministries thrive due to the enthusiasm and passion of the leaders and the hard work of the eager volunteers who support them.
Paula Dugan, Director of Children’s Ministry, and Holly Temming, Director of Children’s Music, spare no effort to inspire, engage, and support our children. They continually approach tough issues, such as racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic, with creativity and an energy that ensures all our children can process these difficult concepts and feel seen. They also work with families and an amazing crew of volunteers to provide entertaining and educational opportunities for our children.
A wonderful example of this engagement and infectious enthusiasm is Asbury First’s Vacation Bible School (VBS). For 2021, the theme was “Be the Seed,” which coincided with the creation of our community garden. “Be the Seed” was a special week full of hands-on experiences. Campers learned how to compost, create artwork and music, and even to raise some Monarch butterflies.
Asbury First’s VBS is based on rotating stations. They often include art, science, cooking, music, outreach, and games. Finding a theme and tying it back to the Gospel is key. Making that connection for children between the Word and their day-to-day life is important. How can they, the children of God be the seed in the world?
In the science station we learned about the stages of development of the Monarch butterfly. Each day brought a new surprise. Starting with an egg as small as a mustard seed, growing into a hungry caterpillar, then ending with a chrysalis where a butterfly emerged for all campers to see and touch and release into the world. Like the butterfly, campers were challenged to go out into the world and spread the Word of God with others.
Mike Mullin, Minister for Discipleship and Youth, also pulls out all the stops to foster an open and accepting environment for our youth. From interacting with other religious institutions, such as Temple B’rith Kodesh and the Islamic Center of Rochester, to multiple service opportunities and mission trips, Mike instills an open faith that is service-driven. All the while he encourages them with a youth-oriented version of our main mission: Love God and Neighbor. Live Fully. Serve all. Repeat.
Mike also works with Carol Lamica, Director of Youth Music, and Dr. Larry Dugan, Director of Youth Theater, to provide creative outlets and fun activities for the youth ranging from “Pie for Pi Sunday,” retreats at Camp Casowasco, the Youth Choir and Bell Choir, and of course the annual musical.
The youth have been performing for more than 25 years, and they recently had successful performances of “Annie”. The beauty of the fall musical experience at Asbury First is that it is an inclusive opportunity for youth of all abilities and drama experience. Anyone who tries out is included in the show, and youth who are neuro-diverse also have a chance to participate. All the parts are given equal importance, and the director is very flexible given the busy schedules of our youth.
It’s a supportive environment and the youth encourage each other while bonding throughout the time they spend together. These bonds extend outside the musical experience—at school, in the community, and at other youth ministry activities.
There are opportunities for youth to work backstage or to help with sets, tech, or concessions. All the money raised goes towards the mission trips that the youth go on over the summer. The musicals not only bring the youth together, but the whole church comes together to embrace the youth by attending the performances.
This points to another important reason that the children’s and youth ministries thrive at Asbury First: the involvement of the entire church. Our congregation happily supports these ministries not just by purchasing pies to raise funds for mission trips, or volunteering time and talents for VBS, or attending musical performances, but by embracing our children and youth with love and acceptance. Asbury First is blessed beyond measure with an engaged and passionate congregation and thriving children’s and youth ministries.