When Tricia Hodges was searching for a Christmas project that would help families focus on the true meaning of Christmas, she never expected it to have such an impact on the church.
In 2019, Tricia, who serves as children’s director at First Baptist Church Thorsby, Alabama, where her husband Marc is lead pastor searched online for a unique activity. She found The Manger Project, a ministry of KidMin, and by all measures, it has been a success.
“We started in 2019 and had 25 families to participate,” she said. “Because of COVID-19, we felt that keeping our people safe was a top priority, and this project, like other church programs, was put on hold (in 2020). But this year we’re going strong and not only FBC, but the entire community of Thorsby is talking about The Manger Project.”
“Our church averages about 150 in Sunday School,” Marc Hodges noted. “To have 25 families participate is a large percentage of our attendance.
“But with an emphasis on children and youth programs, we’re reaching families in nearby towns and communities. In fact, we now have two morning worship services instead of one.”
With The Manger Project, families enroll and pay a small registration fee. Before the holidays, a night is scheduled for families to gather at the church, and the lumber is precut for the approximately 2-foot-long mangers. Each kit contains 10 pieces of precut wood, instructions and all items needed for assembly.
“I tell families, all you need to bring is a hammer,” Hodges said. “We supply everything else … even the nails.”
FBC realizes the value of families staying close. Parents are encouraged to oversee the project, but allow children to do the actual work. Parents not only teach responsibility, patience and new skills, but also why the birth of Christ is so vital to faith.
But there is more to The Manger Project. What started as a children’s ministry to bring families together goes even further. After the manger is complete, each family takes it home and fills it with items to help local charities. Small containers of shampoo, toothpaste and other toiletries fill the manger, then they’re delivered to a homeless shelter in Thorsby or a nearby community.
Another ministry that benefits is Care Net Chilton.
“The Manger Project has been such a blessing to our center,” said Ashley Liveoak, executive director. “The travel-size items collected last year went in our Mom’s Goodie Bags when they receive a positive pregnancy test. We continue to use the manger that was given to us in another way — it is placed in our entryway and is filled with knitted blankets for parents to pick one out for their child.
“The Manger Project is a true blessing and we are incredibly grateful!”
A family affair
The evening of manger building included a hot-chocolate bar, and families were encouraged to have a family Christmas photo taken with their manger.
“I would say The Manger Project turned out to involve most of our church. Everyone wanted to participate,” Hodges said
Church members Amy and Warwick Naylor realized the importance of teaching their children about service to both God and people in need.
“We placed the manger under our Christmas tree,” she said. “Each time we purchased a gift for someone, we also bought a gift for the manger.
“As of now, we haven’t decided which charity to support this year,” she continued. “Our children are always concerned about children who do not know about Jesus. The first year, we noticed many homeless people living under a bridge in Birmingham. We filled Ziploc bags with snacks and $5, and the children used some of their own money. Then we filled the manger with individual bags, snacks, bottles of water and small Bibles and left it where the homeless congregate.”