Youth keep school-kit tradition going strong

With an MCC project, siblings revive the spirit of service they learned at a church that closed its doors

Sep 20, 2016 by and

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McPHERSON, Kan. — Berg­thal Mennonite Church has passed into history, but its spirit of service lives.
Two of its youngest former members have taken the lead in keeping the legacy going.

Siblings Jonathan and Rebecca Schlosser wanted Bergthal Mennonite Church’s school kit Sunday to continue at First Mennonite Church of McPherson, Kan. — Paul Schrag/MWR

Siblings Jonathan and Rebecca Schlosser wanted Bergthal Mennonite Church’s school kit Sunday to continue at First Mennonite Church of McPherson, Kan. — Paul Schrag/MWR

They’ve revived one of Berg­thal’s favorite traditions — assembling school kits for Mennonite Central Committee — at the church they go to now, First Mennonite of McPherson.

At Bergthal, “school kit Sunday was like a holiday, something that people looked forward to,” said Rebecca Schlosser, 12, who led the project at McPherson with her brother, Jonathan, 14.

Their mother, Lynn Schlosser, was the last pastor at Bergthal, a rural congregation near Pawnee Rock whose 138-year history came to an end in 2013.

“When Bergthal was closing, one of the themes was resurrection,” Schlosser said. “I said that we all needed to be alert to signs of resurrection and that Bergthal would continue to live on in unexpected ways. Today is one of those times.”

About 60 adults and children assembled 500 school kits in the basement of First Mennonite Church on Sept. 11 after Sunday morning worship.

“I really like watching people come together and have fun doing stuff to help others,” Jona­than Schlosser said.

The kits include notebooks, regular pencils, colored pencils, erasers and rulers collected in homemade cloth bags. Last year MCC sent more than 90,000 kits to children around the world whose families struggle to afford basic school supplies.

Giving generously

When Bergthal closed, it distributed leftover funds to charities selected by former members. First Mennonite used part of a $5,000 grant from Bergthal to buy some of the school kit supplies. Because members gave generously, First Mennonite spent only $300 of the grant this year.

About 10 former Bergthal members traveled to McPherson for First Mennonite’s school kit Sunday and brought more than 90 bags with them.

Bergthal often collected 1,000 kits, and one year made 1,500, said Wynona Unruh of Great Bend, who was active in the project at Bergthal.

“People couldn’t figure out how we did so many,” she said. “I’m excited that this church is continuing this. There’s such a need worldwide.”

Lynn Schlosser said the project was her children’s initiative.

“They came to [husband] Todd and me and said, ‘Can we do a school kit project here?’ ” she said. “We said, ‘It’s up to you to do the work; you have to lead it.’ ”

The congregation got behind the project. For Betsy Kaufman, it’s an example of how MCC’s hands-on service impacts givers as well as receivers.

“It’s difficult today for people to develop empathy — because of texting, people don’t see the impact of their words,” she said. “Here’s a concrete example of a gift that’s given from children to children.”

Speaking during the worship service, Lynn Schlosser recalled that at Bergthal she thought of the school kit project as “the purest expression of what it means to be church.”

After lunch, as the basement assembly line produced a growing stack of bags filled with school items, interim pastor Randy Smith talked about connections between past, present and future.

“The Bergthal church had been there for generations, and now the ministry continues here for another generation,” he said. “And what’s inspiring is the generation that decided to keep this going are 12 and 14 years old.”

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