When the Marysville, Ohio, Grace Brethren Church began five years ago, many young families were attracted to the solid Bible teaching and the upbeat atmosphere of the young congregation. It seemed only natural that one way to help them get to know other parishioners was to honor them when they were expecting a child.
“The baby shower ministry was probably one of the first regular women’s events that we began,” recalls Ronnie Wood, the director of women’s ministries. “We wanted to connect them with other moms who were in the same time of life, as well as help them know women who were raising children or had experienced raising a family.”
Today, the church hosts four group showers a year, once a quarter for moms who are due to deliver a baby within the next three months. About 24 to 30 women (plus the honored moms) participate in each event, which features a speaker, specific gifts for each expectant mother, and time to make and pray over a fleece receiving blanket for each new baby (plus another one to be donated to a local pregnancy care center).
“The baby showers, as with several other ministries like the new attender dinners, First Friday Fellowships, men’s basketball, and Bible studies, help people connect,” says Clancy Cruise, founding pastor of the church, where about 450 people attend. “That is what makes the difference,” he adds. “When people connect, they grow.”
Planning for each shower begins six weeks prior to the scheduled event when the Baby Shower Team meets to discuss new ideas and delegate tasks.
The fact that the young congregation doesn’t have a permanent home (they meet in an elementary school) doesn’t hinder the plans. Recent showers have been held in the basement of a day care center or the library at the school where the church holds services.
The moms are invited and encouraged to include members of their families in the special day. At the same time, another woman is asked to be a prayer partner with the new mom for the three months following the shower.
“They decide how they will communicate with each other. It is up to the new mom just how much detail she would like to share with her prayer partner,” notes Wood. “If the relationship grows, it doesn’t have to end.”
Sign-up sheets at the women’s ministry table include information about the due date and gender of the baby (if known), along with a variety of suggested gifts, such as diapers, a small toy, wipes, an outfit, or a gift for the mom. Each sheet lists the same items. When a person commits to bringing a gift, she is asked for her contact information, so the mom can write thank-you notes.
“Guests are always encouraged to come, even if they may not have signed up to bring a gift,” Wood says.
The event begins with an ice breaker/game followed by a speaker. “We tell the speaker that she doesn’t have to speak about babies or children, unless that’s what God lays on her heart,” notes Julia Anontvechrucks, the shower team leader. “A couple of showers ago, our speaker talked about encouragement. It was extremely applicable, even to those attending who didn’t have children.”
Prayer with the new moms and their prayer partners is followed with refreshments and scripture reading, a skit, or special music. This leaves plenty of time to make a fleece baby blanket for each new mom plus one to be given to the local pregnancy care center. “If we honor four moms, we send four blankets to the center,” comments Wood.
The creation of the blankets has become the major focus of the shower, eliminating the present unwrapping. “We really want to focus on the making/giving of the blankets and not just the opening of gifts,” she says.
The blankets are simple squares of fleece that are layered and knotted together. (Directions can be found here.) With each knot, a prayer is offered on behalf of the mom and the new baby – that they will know how much God loves them and give their lives to Him.
“It is a blessing for the mom and baby that far exceeds even the actual blanket itself,” notes Wood. The blankets are part of the church’s local outreach efforts and are funded through the missions budget. (Shower expenses are part of the women’s ministry budget.)
“It was so meaningful,” says Kate Carroll, 25, who was one of several honored at a shower in November. “The church ladies took their time to show us they cared about us, even if they didn’t know us.” Kate, who with her husband, Eric, has attended the Marysville church for the last three years and is due with her second child, a girl, in early February. (The couple has a 22-month old son, Micah.)
Wood says that the shower ministry has impacted the church in many ways. In addition to serving as a connecting point for individuals who are new to the congregation, it provides opportunities for women to serve, either as a speaker or on the committee “and thus help her grow in her faith walk,” she adds. “It is another way that we can show in a tangible way that we care for one another,” Wood concludes.