Apart from Sunday, Tuesday is the most joy-filled day of the week for Pastor D. J. Muszynski of Micanopy United Methodist Church.
Tuesday is when the church takes its ministry out into the community in a new church/school partnership with the town’s charter middle school, Micanopy Academy. The church was inspired by Bishop Ken Carter’s call for churches across the Florida Conference to form partnerships with schools in their local communities.
|Middle School students from Micanopy Academy assist Larry and Pastor DJ Muszynski in setting up snacks for after-school Bible Club sponsored by Micanopy UMC.|
It began in earnest when Muszynski contacted the school principal and invited her and her entire staff to lunch.
“We wanted to thank them for their service to the community, and we wanted to get to know them better,” Muszynski said. “We are a small community, and we wanted to reach out to the school so we could make a difference in children’s lives.”
Muszynski and Principal Tara Lowe Phillips began a conversation that led the church to create a Tuesday afternoon after-school program that allows the children to explore issues of faith and fellowship.
“Principal Phillips gave me a tour of the school and suggested that we might want to start an afterschool club for the students,” Muszynski said. “We call it a ‘Bible Club,’ and we typically receive anywhere from five to 15 attendees each week.”
“The format for the after-school program is to show a faith-based film, serve snacks and have a discussion on the topics brought up in the film. Prayer is also a component and the children seem to especially appreciate our prayers for them,” Muszynski said.
She said the church makes the principal aware of what is planned each week, adding that students seem to be enjoying the program, especially the movie Miracles From Heaven.
“It is based on a true story of a ten-year-old girl with a rare, incurable disease, and her mother who searches for a solution,” she said.
“After the girl has a freak accident, an extraordinary miracle unfolds that leaves medical specialists mystified, her family restored and their community inspired.”
The basic purpose each Tuesday is simple.
“We really try to let the children know how much they are loved,” she said. “We want them to know that we love them, and God loves them.”
At Christmas time, the church had a big party for the school.
|Students fill the Micanopy UMC sanctuary for a Christmas program.|
“We had a hot meal for them, as well as a Christmas program, and we gave out new backpacks with gifts inside,” Muszynski said. “We are aware that some of the youngsters do not always have enough to eat, and it is important for them to have a nutritious meal.”
According to the pastor, Micanopy is a very small but “eclectic” community. Its residents include business and professional people, some of whom work at the University of Florida in nearby Gainesville.
The town has a long history. The church is nearing its 200th Anniversary, and Florida’s first seminary was founded there. The town has a thriving antique business and many artists.
Like the church, the nearby middle school is small. It has approximately 67 students, but is in the process of adding high school grades.
Muszynski believes that the after-school program is growing and thriving, and the young people are “opening up more” during their discussion time.
“I tell them that Tuesday is my favorite day of the week,” she said, “because it is the day I get to be with them.”
School administrators have noticed how much the church is investing in their partnership.
“My husband and I were asked to judge the school science fair projects,” she said. “It was fun to be asked,” she added. “It creates a stronger bond between the church and the school.”
—Suzanne McGovern is a freelance writer based in Orlando.