When it comes to seasonal expressions, “back-to-school” is a powerful one. It conjures up images of new book bags, fresh notebooks, carefully creased uniforms, and special outfits laid out days in advance.
Even adults who strain a bit to recall long-ago school days may remember back-to-school sensations like “butterflies.” That’s the dreaded stomach churning which strikes when youngsters look up from summer play long enough to discover THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL looming large on the horizon.
At Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, “back-to-school” means something else. It means virtually all church ministries are teaming up to host the annual Back-to-School Rally. Tab’s biggest community outreach event of August — last year, the rally attracted more than 600 participants — features food, fun, and a smile-drenched fellowship.
Set for Saturday, Aug. 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Back-to-School Rally returns this year to a specially prepared lot at Wildemere and Montgomery. The site has become the chosen spot whenever Tab members and their westside neighbors get together for an important cause. The lot is located directly across from beloved neighborhood fixture Whitlow’s Barbershop. The spruced-up field also serves as community headquarters for one of Tab’s other big summer events, “Claiming Our Jerusalem,” held every year in May.
“Over the past five years, the Back-to-School Rally has evolved to the point where it really involves all the ministries of the church,” said Rev. Joy Davis, associate Tab minister who spearheads the Back-to-School Rally.
“Church members participate in a number of ways, including directly giving of themselves by working during this outreach or in the preparation leading up to it. Tab ministries also donate scores of new book bags and other supplies which are passed out at the rally, or they give money to help buy the materials.”
Many Hands Make Light Work
Rev. Davis said individual Tab workers wind up wearing multiple hats in the Back-to-School effort. Some volunteers work in the kitchen on the day of the event, only days after they helped stuff book bags with ink pens, calculators, rulers, and other school supplies. Those same volunteers often have also donated supplies or money to the cause.
The packing party during the week leading up to the Back-to-School Rally features volunteers spending hours filling donated book bags to the brim with loose-leaf paper, spiral notebooks, pencils, pens, rulers, calculators, and more. Members of the Tabernacle Optimist Club, led by Deacon Delbert Fails and Sis. Shirley Tolliver, donate bicycles for the special bike giveaway portion of the rally. That giveaway follows an important presentation on bike safety. Sis. Gloria Whittington of Tabernacle’s Clothing Den heads up an initiative which makes clothes available for families that can use them.
“CVS Pharmacy helps out by providing free shots, and members of the Henry Ford Hospital Nurses Association do blood pressure screenings,” said Rev. Davis. “The free medical clinic of Covenant Care and the Black Nurses Association deliver information and services.
“Of course, we always benefit from hamburgers and other products from McDonald’s franchises owned by Tab member Sis. Debra Virgils. And the Better Made Company provides potato chips.”
Carnival rides and a dunk tank are among favorite attractions for young rally participants.
“We feel blessed to have our longtime volunteers, and we thank God for all the new volunteers we know will come out, then roll their sleeves up, and start working,” said Rev. Davis “most kitchen volunteers are veterans of past rallies and benefit from years of experience.”
Tab’s Back-to-School Rally started about 10 years ago, when the church was on Beechwood and Milford. When the church moved to 2080 W. Grand Blvd., the rally initially was held in the church’s parking lot and fellowship hall. A few years ago, Rev. Davis said, Pastor Nathan Johnson, Senior Pastor of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, told her he wanted to expand the effort and bring the rally directly to Tab’s surrounding neighborhood.
“With that decision by Pastor Johnson, I believe we now are pouring even more of the love of Jesus into this community,” said Rev. Davis. “Relationships are being forged, and every year the rally just gets better and better.”
Pastor Johnson noted that reaching out to youth helps fulfill an important mandate all Christians have.
“We are charged as Christians to express the love of Jesus Christ not only in words but in deed,” Pastor Johnson said. “The Back-to-School Rally is another opportunity we have as a church to be a blessing in the community through sharing, particularly with the youth in the community.
“Tabernacle has a long history of being a generous church in terms of working to be expressions of Jesus’ love. As we reflect on that legacy, we are motivated to expand that legacy by being a blessing to the children of the community.”
The Education/Spirituality Connection
The impact of the rally goes beyond filled stomachs, gift bags, and all-around fun, Rev. Davis said. She recalls one overwhelming response after the Puppet Ministry performed. Thirteen people lined up, raised their hands, and stepped forward as candidates for baptism. Later that month, an entire family which participated in the rally was baptized together, and family members are still active today.
“That shows the effect of what we do in the community and how it spreads the love of Christ,” noted Rev. Davis. “We really see outward expressions of inward change.”
The Back-to-School Rally takes on added significance because of the upheaval surrounding Detroit’s schools. Closures, mergers, transportation challenges, an economic crisis, political battles, and other issues tend to erode the stability young people need, Rev. Davis said.
“It’s a challenge when you consider what’s happening with the educational system, and it definitely affects children’s attitudes towards education,” said Rev. Davis. “Sometimes, you have groups fighting over this and that, and young people can feel pushed aside. With this ministry opportunity, we are trying to get them fired up, rallied up. We believe that with the supplies, the services, and the attention, we can help reignite the determination to get an education. A backpack full of shiny new supplies can give them a little incentive.”
Rev. Davis added that the synthesis of spirituality and education helps spur achievement in youths.
“We look forward to another wonderful rally,” said Rev. Davis. “But we know if we don’t infuse the education with spirituality, none of that will work. On the other hand, if we combine the two of them together – education and spirituality – it’s unstoppable. That’s when we have the success stories in Detroit that many people don’t know about.”
She urges Tab members to donate book bags, notebooks, pens, calculators, and other supplies. She also encourages them to sign up as volunteers. Members can sign up in the cloak room beginning in the first week of August.
Click on Picture to Advance Slideshow
Click on Picture to Advance Slideshow