So What’s God is Gang?

History The God’s Gang ministry began almost 20 years ago as a children’s ministry at Liberty UMC. There were 5 children and 2 volunteers (the mothers of the children). In 2014 with the creation of a new church charge, Philadelphia United Methodist Church, Liberty’s new sister church, joined the ministry.Over the next few years God’s Gang increased in the number of participants. In 2016, Hiddenite United Methodist Church joined the ministry, sending volunteers and hosting the entire God’s Gang congregation at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. The God’s Gang congregation is excited about this new partnership.

The Ministry

The God’s Gang ministry is geared toward school aged children (K- 12) although the entire community spans ages infant to 80+ years. The God’s Gang congregation meets Wednesday nights, 6-7:30 PM and follows the Alexander County Schools schedule. The ministry breaks for the summer. During the summer months, June-August, the volunteers continue to meet monthly, including a Saturday planning and community building retreat. On Wednesday nights, the Liberty church van, Big Red, transports many of the kids. The first children arrive around 5:20. Volunteers are on hand as the kids enjoy outdoor fun. As the weather becomes colder or during rain, the children play board games, do prepared crafts or simply fellowship with each other and/or the volunteers inside. Thesecond van load generally arrives at 5:45, with a final load arriving at 6:00. At 6:00 everyone “circles up” for prayer and a meal is served to the 35 to 40 children and 10 to 15 adults. At 6:30 “Not so Normal Worship” begins. Worship is often in the sanctuary, but on occasion in the fellowship hall, under the picnic shelter or in the church yard. Worship always has at least three elements: music, scripture and prayer. Everyone is encouraged to participate in worship. The children read scripture, lead in prayer and are encouraged to ask questions and share. Although the Liberty pastor has typically offered the “message,” the 2017-18 God’s Gang congregation will have several different worship leaders offer the “message.” Worship with the God’s Gang congregation is wonderfully varied. On any night “Jesus Loves Me” may be sung to the tune of “Twist and Shout.”Other elements like puppets, skits, videos, and Bible characters may be part of the experience. The God’s Gang congregation celebrated Thanksgiving with a traditional Thanksgiving meal including fresh flowers and candles. The meal ended with Holy Communion as the congregants served one another. Watching six-year-old hands breaking bread, laying it in 75-year-old hands and saying, “the body of Christ broken for you,” is a transformative experience. The kids continue to ask, “When are we going to ‘worship with food’ again?” At Christmas, the God’s Gang congregation presented the Christmas story through puppets and drama. The kids were so excited, they invited parents, grandparents, friends, even a few school teachers were in attendance. On Ash Wednesday, the God’s Gang congregation participated in a traditional AshWednesday service and on the Wednesday before Easter, they presented the Holy Week story from the Gospel of Matthew. Following worship, the congregation breaks into small groups, offering time to ask questions, do crafts, pray, play, etc. The small group leaders focus on the theme of the evening, but allow the children to take the conversations in the direction that may be needed.

The Congregation

The God’s Gang congregation is diverse in age, ethnicity and socio- economics. The ages span from infant to 80+ years. The ethnicities include African American, Hispanic, bi-racial and white. In the past two years the diversity has increased and the God’s Gang congregation now looks very much like the community it serves. For many of the kids, God’s Gang is “their church.” These young folks are learning about Jesus and what it means to follow him. The most important thing is that these precious ones know that they are loved and precious to God and then share this love with others. Their prayer requests are amazing,

ranging from asking prayer for their dog to their neighbor. And it has been amazing how they retain the stories they learn. They also ask wonderful questions: “I don’t understand how God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, can you explain it to me?” “So God created light before he created the sun and moon… how does that work?” “When you die do you become an angel?” “Did Mary really get pregnant without having sex?” Often the leaders wonder if any of the seed we sow is falling on good earth and then a child will say, “thank you for bringing me home,” as she gets off the van, or offer a hug so tight that it’s hard to breathe, or help without being asked, or make sure a friend is included, or help a younger child find the book, chapter and verse, or invite friends to come to God’s Gang, or say, “You know what, I’ve got Jesus in my heart.” And it is in these times that we know that God is moving in the lives of the God’s Gang congregation.

 

The Future

The God’s Gang ministry is growing and is outgrowing the current location at Liberty UMC. In the spring of 2017, Hiddenite UMC hosted the God’s Gang congregation, preparing the meal and leading worship. The leaders and volunteers from Liberty and Philadelphia all participated. On October 25, 2017 Philadelphia UMC hosted God’s Gang with a Trunk 0r Treat, meal, games, music and fun.  What we are finding is that the God’s Gang ministry is not tied to a place. God’s Gang is a congregation who can worship and fellowship anywhere.  What is God calling God’s Gang to next? We wait with awesome anticipation about what the future holds.