Effectively reaching new people for Christ is the hallmark of West Ohio’s Light of the World award, given to one church from each district that demonstrates a commitment to shine the light of God’s love into their community. This year’s winner from Capitol Area South is Atlanta United Methodist Church.
Atlanta UMC is a small, rural, traditional church on the western edge of Pickaway County. At this point in time, the community of Atlanta has a grain elevator, a few houses, fields, and the church. Under the leadership of Rev. Samuel Harnish, the church has a focus on caring for children, serving the community, and taking time for prayer.
One of Atlanta UMC’s main ministries is the After School Special, a twice monthly program for children in Kindergarten-12th grade that offers Bible study and fellowship, arts and crafts, a meal and prayer. The program runs October-April and has been an outreach of the church for more than 15 years. Last year, average attendance was over 30 kids!
In 2018, one of the church’s leaders had been praying about what the curriculum for the 2019 After School Special should focus on. Through prayer, she developed a program based on the life of Jesus. Through more prayer, and conversation with other ministry leaders, she felt led to ask if there might be any people in the church or connected with the After School Special who wanted to be baptized.
This led to providing church and After School Special families information on the United Methodist Church’s understanding of baptism, along with an invitation for those not baptized to consider it. Children in the After School Special were taught about the meaning of baptism, and a play was put together featuring the children.
Atlanta UMC’s average Sunday worship attendance is less than 30. On Baptism Sunday (November 17, 2019), over 130 people came to the church! After the play, people who had not been baptized were encouraged to come forward and receive the sacrament. Twelve children ages 0-12 years old were baptized, along with seven teenagers and five adults.
“It was a beautiful day,” says Rev. Harnish. “To see women and men coming forward, with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes, to embrace the grace of the Lord, is a beautiful thing.”
Baptism Sunday has also provided a basis for expanding the church’s ministry in the community. A Christmas play was offered, and the church pews were filled yet again. A confirmation group with nine participants was started in early 2020 and will resume when people are able to gather again in larger groups. And plans are being made for a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the church in 2021.
Congratulations, Atlanta UMC, for receiving this year’s Light of the World award for Capitol Area South!