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Tent proves to be right ticket for youth at Valleydale Baptistcomment (0)

September 13, 2001

By Greg Heyman

Phillip Hasha couldn’t believe it when he heard his youth ministry was planning to use a tent for Sunday School classes and activities.
“I was like, ‘What is this? A tent?,’” said Hasha, a student at Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham.
But as time drew nearer for Valleydale Baptist Church, Birmingham, to begin using a tent for its student ministry, Hasha, 16, said the idea began to grow on him.
Although brick and mortar may be just right for some congregations, the leadership at Valleydale is convinced a conventional building is not the only way to go.
For Valleydale, a 5,000-square-foot tent is just the ticket for the church’s high school ministry, which includes approximately 150 students. Inside, youth will study the Word of God on Sundays in a structure with video games, Ping-Pong tables and televisions that will also serve as a hangout during the week.
“It is so amazing,” said student Malinda Booty, 17, in sharing her reaction to the tent.
Youth minister Scott Burks said the tent will be used during Sunday School at 9:40 a.m. Classes were held there for the first time Aug. 12.
The grand opening for the tent — which is called “The Refuge” — was Aug. 29. The event was kicked off with “Bash II,” an annual rally where bashing an old automobile is a major activity, along with refreshments and a rally focusing on lessons in truth.
The church decided to use the tent after exhausting other classrooms elsewhere in their more traditional buildings. “We are totally out of space,” Burks said.
Lee Ann Martin, communications coordinator for Valleydale, said the decision to purchase the tent came after church leaders struggled for several months with ways to accommodate the needs of their high school ministry.
Because the tent is portable and owned by Valleydale, Martin said it can be used for youth in the future or for other ministries. She added that the tent was purchased at a fraction of what it would cost to construct a conventional building.
Burks said the majority of the tent will be used as an auditorium. He said students in grades 9–12 meet in a large assembly area that will be partitioned off before dividing the students into cluster groups for study.
But Burks hopes the tent will open the doors for ministry beyond the Sunday School hour and the youth’s Wednesday night service. He said the tent will be available as a gathering place for students after school, with plans to have it open from 9 p.m. to midnight in the fall.
“It’s an experiment now, but I think it will end up being year-round,” he said about keeping the tent open.
Along with the entertainment options inside, the area outside the tent will also offer recreation activities. A caged basketball court in front of the tent and sand volleyball courts will provide students a time for fellowship during warm weather. In addition, Burks said skateboard ramps will be located nearby.
The varied activities are intended as a way to draw students to the youth center. “It’s a chance for our students to bring everyone they can,” he said.
Burks said the church’s Wednesday night event is “very outreach driven” and he hopes students will come from across the area, as word of mouth about the unique concept spreads and also by being invited by members of Valleydale’s youth group.
The students already involved with Valleydale’s youth program have expressed excitement with the novelty of using a tent. “They’re thrilled to death,” Burks said.
Booty, a senior at Oak Mountain High School, believes the tent’s location will attract other youth. “They drive by and see a huge tent and wonder what’s going on.”

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