By Robyn Gautschy
GALESBURG — The children’s ministry at Galesburg First United Methodist Church is on track for an exciting year. The children’s area of the church just completed its first renovation since 1962, and the colorful new railroad theme was chosen with Galesburg in mind.
The renovation was at the top of Jonathan Shettler’s to-do list when he was hired as director of youth and children at the church last summer.
Upon touring the children’s area with his wife, Amber, the two looked at each other and knew that if they had kids, they wouldn’t bring them to this church.
“It was not a kid-friendly environment,” Shettler said, showing a “before” picture of the wing’s white concrete block walls and bland, hard floors. “I wanted something exciting that would draw kids in, draw families in, and more importantly, draw them to God.”
So the Shettlers moved from West Virginia a week early to explore and get to know Galesburg. They asked people what the town is known for, and the answer was clear: the railroads.
Shettler decided trains would be a perfect theme for the children’s ministry — “the atmosphere, the energy and the history behind it,” he said — not to mention, kids love trains. He also wanted to create an area that would still have appeal in another 20 to 30 years.
Shettler got to work on his vision and recruited Wonder Works Studios out of Tennessee to make it a reality. They started work June 2 and finished about two weeks ahead of their Aug. 1 goal.
Now, the main hallway in the children’s wing has a three-dimensional train on one side, while the other side looks like the inside of a train, right down to the window view of buffalo on the prairie.
A wooden “ticket booth” area will be the place to check kids in and out of the area, and a carved wooden “welcome aboard” sign arches over one end of the hallway.
Downstairs, the gym area has been renovated to look like a cabin in the woods. Life-size, realistic-looking concrete trees decorate the room, with one of them doubling as a basketball hoop. The cabin provides a stage area, and the walls are lined with lifelike flower beds and concrete “rock.”
“We chose a cabin theme because kids love the outdoors and they love playing outside,” Shettler said.
This space will be used for Sunday morning praise and worship, as well as a short message by Shettler before the children split into their Sunday school classes.
The children’s wing has three classrooms for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Each now includes murals of water-themed Bible stories: Jonah and the whale, Moses parting the Red Sea and Jesus walking on water.
The new children’s area has already been a hit with kids and their parents.
“The kids love it,” Shettler said. “They’re very excited about it. They want to come here on Sunday mornings.”
The new space even comes with a new name for the children’s ministry: It’s now called the Rise Up Kids Ministry.
The renovations were completed just in time for First United Methodist Church’s vacation Bible school. VBS runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, to Thursday, Aug. 9. Parents may register their children in advance by calling the church at (309) 342- 3197, or may simply sign them up the night VBS starts.
Shettler says 10 children are signed up so far, and he hopes to have about 40 altogether. The theme this year is “Amped.”
“It’s all about getting excited to live fully alive with God,” Shettler said. He’s even been learning to skateboard for the occasion.
“We’re excited to get the kids here and utilize the space for what it was designed for,” he added.
But Shettler’s not ready to settle down after accomplishing so much in his first year on the job. His next goal is to get new tables and chairs for the children’s classrooms, and to add Wednesday night programming for the K-5 kids (Wednesday night programming is already available for older youth).
In October, the church will host its second annual “trunk-or-treat” event. The event was hugely successful last year, with about 100 kids expected and an actual turnout of more than 300.
For more information about the First United Methodist Church, call (309) 342-3197, visit http://www.firstumcgalesburg.orgor find them on Facebook @galesburgfirst.