Sunday, April 14, 2024

INTERESTING FOLKS: Welcome to the Playground: New Blairstown UMC Pastor Urges Families to Join Congregation

First United Methodist Church of Blairstown Sanctuary. Photo by Alexa Tironi 12/2023.

For almost his entire life on any given Sunday, Pedro Pillot could be found sitting in front of the pulpit; and eventually, following in his father’s footsteps, he would stand behind it. 

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pillot heard the call to ministry when he was 14. After graduating from Drew University’s theological school with a Master of Divinity in 2016, Pillot served several churches in the southern New Jersey region. 

In 2023 he was assigned to the First United Methodist Church of Blairstown and joined the community in July. Upon his arrival, Pillot learned the church is currently focused on two things: meeting the needs of the community and welcoming young families. 

“So, for one thing, I came in with an advantage. I have a young family myself,” said Pillot.

He and his wife Jacki, who is also a pastor, have three small children: Elba who just turned 5, Lidia who is 2 and Anna who is still a baby. 

Starting right away, Pillot updated the church’s Safe Sanctuaries Policy, a UMC standard created to “define and set standards for abuse prevention and risk reduction strategies.” Any adult serving the church and working with children must complete a background check, interviews and must supply references. 

With that accomplished, the church held its first Sunday School class of the season on December 3, which will now occur weekly before official service at 9 a.m. 

“We’re following a curriculum called ‘Celebrate Wonder’ because that’s something kids are good at— wondering. And so, each lesson time includes a Bible story where we wonder about the themes in the story,” explained Pillot. 

Students watch a short video, complete an arts and crafts project and have prayer time. 

“It’s a space to allow the kids to really express themselves, ask their questions and go home knowing something new.” 

Currently, Pillot teaches Sunday School. By summertime, however, he anticipates it to be entirely run by volunteers. 

Pastor Pedro has also created a new space in the sanctuary called the Prayground. Up front is a designated space for families with young children. Equipped with coloring books, crayons and building blocks, children can observe the service from the Prayground and remain quietly entertained. During musical portions of the service, kids can dance and sing along. Pillot adds that if they need to get any extra wiggles out the Sunday School room is available. 

 “We’re trying to make our church a more comfortable and convenient place for young families.”

Blairstown UMC’s efforts to bring in new, young families comes at a time when fewer children are attending weekly church services than previous generations. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 31% of adults attend church on a weekly basis; however, 67% of those same adults remember attending church that frequently as children. 

Blairstown UMC church historians remember a time when there were two Sunday School classes, a lower and an upper level. There was an active youth group and a full roster for summertime’s Vacation Bible School. 

What’s caused the drop off? Pillot has a few ideas. 

“There’s a lot of pressure on families to prepare their kids and get their kids well-rounded. You have school and then you have extra curricular and for a lot of families Sunday is the only day that their kid doesn’t have to wake up early to go do some structured function all day.”

“People in all walks of life have that challenge,” he continued. “A lot of people don’t have the luxury to be able to not work on Sunday. Because the choice might be, I go to church, or I have enough money for groceries this week. I don’t think God is calling people to starve themselves or their children.” 

Pillot explained that the church isn’t tied down to one form of ministry, but instead is trying to expand its outreach and understanding of the community. 

“Here at First [United Methodist Church of Blairstown] we’re trying to strike a balance to meet the needs of people where they are. For some people, Sunday morning worship… being present, singing the songs and hearing the scriptures is what they need. Some people need the middle of the week Bible study (Thursdays, 7p.m., in-person and online), some people need the hands-on opportunity. And so, we try to make those opportunities here as much as we can.” 

Blairstown UMC is Pillot’s fourth appointment within the greater New Jersey area. His first official appointment was to the Asbury United Methodist Church in Camden, and it was actually the church he grew up in. 

Asbury had two congregations, speaking separate languages. One congregation was made up of West Africans hailing from Sierra Leonne, Ghana and Cameroon. This service was lead in English. The second congregation consisted of people from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Cuba and Mexico. Their service would be conducted in Spanish. 

Pillot described this experience saying, “It’s like starting the race already going 60 miles an hour and instantaneously you are right in the thick of it. It’s a challenge to find qualified pastors for that kind of congregation. It takes a deep flexibility with language.”

During his time there, the United Methodist Church, as an international organization, published a four-part sermon series given by Pillot on the different set of rules Christians are called to live by. 

Next, he would travel to Fieldsboro United Methodist Church followed by Pennsauken United Methodist Church where he was, again, in charge of two congregations— both spoke English that time. 

Blairstown is a change of pace from Camden. 

“It’s quiet. I don’t have to listen to people’s on-speaker-phone conversations on the sidewalk from inside my living room as they walk by,” Pillot jokes. 

“I can definitely say, I have not had this kind of welcome, not to this degree in every church,” he adds. “And maybe it’s just that people out here are friendly… being out in the country a bit.” 

This Christmas the church will be hosting several services. The first will occur on Thursday, December 21, at 6 p.m. and is called the Longest Night Service (the date of which is the winter solstice). This service allows attendees to share communion and reflect on lost loved ones. In addition, two services will be held on Christmas Eve, one at 10 a.m. and another at 7 p.m.

Alex Tironi Headshot
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.