Christ UMC gives away hundreds of free pumpkins at reimagined fall event
By Kara Witherow, Editor
For 25 years, Christ United Methodist Church in Warner Robins has been known as “the Pumpkin Patch church.”
The annual fall event has raised nearly $125,000 for local ministry groups and mission agencies like Wesley Glen Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the local food pantry, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
But this year, because of the global coronavirus pandemic, church leaders didn’t think it wise to host a community event that attracts hundreds of children, youth, and adults.
So they reimagined their long-standing tradition and decided to give pumpkins away at a safe, socially distanced event rather than sell them.
“We’ve been ‘The Pumpkin Church’ for so long, and we don’t want to lose that,” said Christ UMC pastor Rev. Kirk Hagan. “We wanted people to know they can always get a pumpkin here and also get a great experience when they come to church.”
More than 500 free pumpkins were handed out Saturday, Oct. 17 during the church’s Drive-Thru Pumpkin Giveaway.
As families drove under the colorful balloon arch onto the church’s campus they were greeted with waves and smiles and handed a souvenir cup full of candy and topped with a stuffed pumpkin. Volunteers manned a popcorn machine and handed out bags of fresh popped-popcorn. Music played, the church’s children and youth were dressed in costumes, and the atmosphere was fun and festive.
While Christ UMC didn’t raise any money for missions and ministry groups through the pumpkin patch this year, the congregation did show the Warner Robins community its appreciation for the years of support it’s given to the church’s pumpkin patch ministry.
“The community has supported the patch and our mission for more than 25 years,” said LouAnn McLain, Christ UMC’s administrator. “We wanted to give back to them this year since we can’t do a traditional patch. We wanted to do something different and show them we appreciate all the years they’ve come to the patch and made it a priority. We wanted to share our bounty with them this year.”
Although the event was different than in years’ past, it was a great day, Rev. Hagan said, and nearly 40 church members showed up to volunteer.
“We had an absolute blast,” he said. “It was the highlight of our year as a church. It was a great day.”
The Christ UMC congregation has been extremely supportive of reimagining this year’s pumpkin patch, perhaps because it’s just one of several ministries they’ve reimagined this year. The pandemic has forced congregations to rethink long-held traditions, beloved events, and even the ways they worship.
This spring, Christ UMC’s Connections Team began reaching out to those in the congregation who are homebound, asking if they need groceries, medicines, or other necessities. Deep relationships have developed, McLain said.
“It’s brought them so much joy and it’s made (the volunteers) feel like they are the hands and feet of Christ because they are doing something for someone who can’t do for themselves,” she said.
The congregation – which before the pandemic was in the midst of a building project – is now rethinking its future facility needs. Rev. Hagan says he’s proud of the congregation’s openness to trying new things, its flexibility, and resilience.
One thing Christ UMC won’t reimagine or rethink is its commitment to the community and offering hope and love to all.
“The goal of our church is to serve our neighbors and to offer hope and encouragement, whether it’s with a pumpkin or by welcoming them to worship,” Rev. Hagan said. “We’re here to encourage them and help them feel joy especially during the awkward and difficult seasons of life.”