Stacey Courson and others at Thorington Road Baptist Church in Montgomery looked forward to seeing their guests in person at this year’s Night to Shine.
Sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation for those age 14 and up with special needs, Night to Shine usually is held prom-style, but in 2021 it became a drive-thru event called a Shine-Thru, followed by a virtual party guests could watch at home.
“We had started out planning this year’s event with the intentions of doing it back in person, so we had a venue booked for the whole prom experience,” said Courson, Night to Shine coordinator for Thorington Road Baptist.
But TTF announced in October that it would once again be a Shine-Thru virtual event because of COVID-19 concerns.
Courson admitted they were disappointed but understood — the special needs community includes some who are medically fragile.
Ramping it up
So she and others at the church started doing everything they could to take what they’d done in 2021 and ramp it up.
“Instead of driving through, we created different stations to visit,” Courson explained.
At check-in, name cards were placed on guests’ cars so volunteers could greet them by name along the way. At one stop, they got crowns or tiaras; at the next, corsages or boutonnières. Then they could visit a station with a DJ, drive through a crowd of cheering volunteers, have photos taken and get a hat made from twisted balloons.
Twinkle-lights and balloons were prominent, several local mascots participated and everyone got Chick-Fil-A dinners to take home and eat while watching the virtual TTF party.
“It’s not about Thorington Road, it’s about the community,” Courson asserted, noting Michael Trull, lead pastor, encouraged participation in Night to Shine several years ago hoping it would help the church begin to develop more special needs ministries.
“We stepped off in faith not really understanding the scope of what we were doing,” Courson admitted, “but our first year was incredible, and it has continued to be that way. We’ve been so excited to be a part of it.”
The Night to Shine Shine-Thru was held at hundreds of sites worldwide Feb. 11. Thorington Road was one of 10 in Alabama hosting guests for the event, in its eighth year.
Angela Washington, coordinator of Night to Shine for Bethel Baptist Church in Dora, said the mild weather that night was a gift from God as they celebrated their 150 special guests outdoors.
“We had kind of traditional stations, and then we had a section where they could pull off if they wanted to listen to music,” she said. “We had some who got out and danced.”
Showing Christ’s love
Washington noted she was struck by the response of one particular family — the mother said in the past she felt shut out by church in general and was touched by the sight of Bethel members loving people this way.
“I told our church that if nobody else came through, it was worth it for that,” Washington said.
Ryan Johnson, senior pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Scottsboro, said his congregation also sees Night to Shine as a way to show the love of Christ to the community.
“We talk about Christians standing in the gap — there’s a gap that includes a lot of darkness where life isn’t valued in the culture,” he said. “There’s a thought that a lot of these folks don’t have a quality of life.”
As volunteers cheered, shook pompoms, took photos and celebrated with guests, they shined a light on the beauty of every person, Johnson said.
“All of these individuals are made in the image of God, and seeing them celebrated affirms that to us. It’s a highlight of our church and community’s year.”
For more information about Night to Shine visit timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine.
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