Stevensville UMC in Montana offers space for daycare, distance learning

October 13, 2020
Story and photo submitted by Rev. Sarah Merchant
Pastor, Stevensville UMC, Stevensville, MT

Pivot. This is the word used by businesses when they change courses or claim a new strategy in the face of obstacles. For anyone who is a part of the family, small business, community, or church, the pivot can feel more like spinning. This week I found myself doing more than a pivot or spinning; I was in the Divine Dance and all because of distance learning. Beginning Oct. 9, Stevensville United Methodist Church opened its doors in a new ministry capacity called Sapphire Early Learning Center. A handful of students, displaced by a closed school district made their way to a safe, supervised, and caring place where they could continue their education.

This divine dance began earlier in 2020. It begin with a dream, a slow meandering out on the dance floor. The church considered how it could live out its mission to serve the community, families, and children while also developing an alternative source of income to support the growing needs of an aging historic building over 100 years old. The steps quickened from January and through lock down, and then the steps added complexity with an affirmative vote of the congregation, approval from the district and conference, and finalized architectural plans. Just this week in fact we met with contractors to give us bids and a timeline for construction. The steps took the name Sapphire Early Learning Center, a nonprofit ministry offering care for kiddos ages 0-12, and all this under a newly constructed addition to the church.

But this dance could not just stay in its creative idea and model. We couldn't wait for the lines on the building plans to become classroom walls and cubbies, the new kitchen and fellowship hall since the community – especially the school and students – needed support. So the dream turned dance became fully embodied; the Divine Dance added a partner. We applied for licensing, wrote some grants, and prepared our space and resources to offer distance-learning care.

Last week when schools shut down due to a few COVID cases and a large number of contacts left vulnerable, we quickened our dance steps and stretched out our arms to invite families, particularly their students, to find a landing spot. Six kids joined us with their Chromebooks and tablets and free sack lunches from the school.  Meanwhile, we supported families spinning in their own stress and coordinating last minute changes by providing peace, care and strength. No doubt we will add yet another dance companion, the wisdom that will remind us of old steps like washing hands and wearing masks, show us new moves, encourage us along the way, and finally guide us into the next song.

As a person who wore a tutu long before holding a basketball and who gets sick at the site of a spinning merry-go-round, I’m grateful to be a part of the Divine Dance. It’s full of beauty and grace especially in the missteps and purposeful movement. But most importantly in the Divine Dance, there is companionship. Our God, our community, our very hearts need us, and can’t afford us to turn away.

No no no! Let’s dance.

Editor's note: Read the article about Stevensville UMC in the Ravalli Republic