By: Christa Meland
There are only about 100 residents in the township of Crane Lake—a resort community in the northernmost part of Minnesota. And for years, Rev. Barb McKewin, who is now 65, was the youngest person in worship during winters at Crane Lake Chapel, which sees just six to eight attendees during the quieter, non-summer months.
But a series of events over the past couple of years have led to the fulfillment of a longtime dream to welcome children into the church. Since October, McKewin has spent Wednesday afternoons—which are early release days for local schools—leading eight kids in the community using a “One-Room Sunday School” curriculum. And on Sunday, for the first time in 15 years, Crane Lake Chapel had a Christmas program featuring seven local youth.
“A hope for children is coming to be,” said McKewin. “We didn’t think this could possibly happen.”
It all started two summers ago, when McKewin’s two-point charge, Crane Lake Chapel and Kabetogama UMC, got an Investing in Congregations grant that allowed the congregations to bring several college students from Osseo UMC to lead their Vacation Bible School. At least 30 kids participated; most of them were visiting from out of town but there were some locals too. The feedback and the number of participants were so strong that the churches brought back the Osseo UMC students again last summer. And some of the local kids even asked if it was possible to do year-round VBS.
Then, this fall, the mother of two of the kids who attended VBS was navigating a difficult time in her life—and her son told her, “Call Pastor Barb. She’ll come and help you.”
The mother took her son’s advice, and sure enough, Pastor Barb went to see her on a number of occasions. In doing so, the two became friends. McKewin also got to know some other local families through the mother, who eventually offered to open her home so that McKewin could meet there on Wednesday afternoons with children from the community.
“I don’t know if they’ve ever been to Sunday School before,” said McKewin. “I’m trying to introduce them to God and Christ’s saving love. I want to help them grow in a relationship with God that prayerfully will bring them into church someday.”
It’s already brought them into church once. Seven of the eight children who meet weekly participated in Sunday’s Christmas program, “The Legend of the Candy Cane.” Their families came to see them and were then invited back to the chapel on Christmas Eve.
“My hope is that we can get these families active at the chapel,” said McKewin, who occasionally serves as a substitute teacher in a local school. “The kids know me now. I hear ‘Pastor Barb’ all over.”
For the handful of longtime members who attend Crane Lake Chapel, this new connection to the younger generation is an answer to a prayer. The older members have brought treats for the kids on early release days—and, without hesitation, they approved the purchase of Sunday School materials to be used on Wednesday afternoons.
McKewin is excited about the possibilities that lie ahead as the church’s connection to local children continues to grow and blossom. But one thing is clear: God is at work in powerful ways in Crane Lake.
“This is where God wants me to be,” said McKewin. “I warned the parents of the local kids that the six to eight members who worship at Crane Lake Chapel year-round are so excited to have kids there—the kids will have lots more grandparents.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church