News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 15, 2013

African Methodist Episcopal Church reaches out to youth through Sunday School

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — How to make church relevant for today’s young people is a challenge that some dedicated pastors and youth ministers are willingly taking on this weekend in Terre Haute.

Representatives of many churches in the Indiana South District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church convened at the historic Allen Chapel AME to talk about youth outreach, effective teaching modes and techniques, and overall evangelism.

“We are trying to revitalize Sunday School,” said Rev. Samuel Sumner, presiding elder who supervises all AME churches in central and southern Indiana.

“Every now and then, we have to look at how to do the ministry of Sunday School,” Sumner said. “These young people, we’ve got to come to the point where they can learn the Bible through the technology of this age. You’ve got to be able to relate to these young people.”

Many of the pastors and youth ministers at the convention were sharing their own church experiences of what works and what does not work for Sunday School, while learning from and encouraging each other. As the “old people” were meeting in the church sanctuary, the youth attending the convention were busy learning in nearby Fairbanks Park.

On Friday, Rev. Veronica McFerson was overseeing the many activities that focused on Sunday School, such as participation and being prepared.

“A lot of what they’re doing is working together and learning to fellowship with peers,” said McFerson, who is Allen Chapel’s youth minister.

The youth talked about what they like and what they dislike about Sunday School, and some created “commercials” to encourage others to attend church. Another activity was learning to use fishing poles to cast into the Wabash River, with a team of making “fishers of men” according to a New Testament story on evangelism.

The youth were also given hammers and nails, then were instructed on how to build something so that they learned to work together.

“We are equipping them to go back to their home churches to be better prepared to participate in Sunday School, as well as to take back new ideas,” McFerson said.

A Friday evening picnic was to feature entertainment by the youth in the Fairbanks Park amphitheater with songs, dancing, poetry and other talent.

Today, the youth will be competing in a Bible Bowl contest in which 25 to 30 teams will be asked questions selected from 283 Bible verses. The questions will be in the form of quotations, fill in the blanks, and true or false. The champion in each age group will advance to the Christian Congress at Chicago in October.

Allen Chapel’s Rev. Tonya Burris-Mallory said she was pleased that the local congregation was hosting the annual event.

“It’s wonderful to be chosen to host,” she said. “It’s a meeting that’s been going on for more than 85 years. And according to some of our older members, it’s been 15 or 20 years since we hosted a connectional meeting here.”

Burris-Mallory said the Allen Chapel congregation prides itself on its existence in Terre Haute. The historic church building has been undergoing preservation efforts for the past 12 years, and a new roof is the next phase.

Also in the works is an update to the interior plaster and ceilings for the building’s interior. When the walls are being renovated, she said, the plan is to install new wiring that will bring technology into the building.

“We see that as a good time to do the wiring to make us more modern without messing up the aesthetics of the building,” she said.

And, adding technology is something that will keep the youth engaged as well since they will be able to use gadgets to enhance their learning and their ministry.

“The youth are the church of today,” Elder Sumner agreed. “We want to make sure we keep them in the loop.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.