LUTHER — Since 1991, the Monday School in Luther has given kids a place to go after school to not only have a good time, but grow spiritually as well.

Described as "Sunday school, only on Monday," by its organizers, the classes teach Christian messages for kids in the community. The classes last from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and there are more than 20 kids signed up during any given week. Kids can even arrive by bus from both Baldwin Community Schools and Pine River Schools. Some families only attend irregularly due to the complications in their schedules.

"We had Monday School when my kids were little, which was about 40 years ago," said founding member Karen Neiger. "Then in 1991 we got a new pastor and we went to a conference together and started talking about ideas for engaging kids. We brought up the old Monday School and we liked the idea of bringing back an after school program. We wanted to bring more families into the church and teach the kids. For some of the kids, it is the only exposure to religion they get."

The classes are run by volunteers, most of whom belong to the Luther church, with Pastor Theresa Fairbanks of Walkerville UMC and Crystal Valley UMS leading the lessons. Despite being organized by the Methodist church, the group welcomes kids of all denominations, or of no denomination at all.

"Originally it was for kids in kindergarten through the fifth grade," explained Fairbanks. "When they closed Luther Elementary a few years ago, we thought it was the end of Monday School, but the kids and parents asked for it to continue so it was changed from being directly after school to starting at 4 p.m."

There are now three age groups for kids in Monday School: children in kindergarten through the second grade, those in grades three through five, and those in grades six and up. Some former Monday School students even volunteer for help when they get older.

"They get a hot dog dinner every night," said Fairbanks. "We teach them how to pray over the meal, we provide Christian education appropriate for their grade level and then we sing some of the old Christian songs. The younger kids we try to teach them the heroes of the Bible. For the kids in the third through fifth grade, we try to focus on scripture stories and memorizing certain passages. Sometimes we tie in the messages with stories from today. We try to show the older students how to apply Christian lessons to their everyday life."

The kids who attend all seem to come to love the classes, she said. They run into the church with enthusiasm and cheer when the volunteers announce what the plans are for the day.

"Earlier this year we showed them all how to download the Bible right onto their phones and how to get daily scripture passages," explained Neiger. "They all love it and are always running up to me and showing me what they had on their phones that day."

Thanks to a grant from the Grand Traverse District of United Methodist Churches, the group organizes several field trips each year including camping trips, going to Ferris State University and activities such as rock climbing and zip-lining.

Monday School activities break during the winter months and the volunteers host a Thanksgiving meal for the kids and their families at the end of the "fall semester." This year's meal will be at 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7. They resume their classes in the spring, generally around the beginning of April.

After lasting for 24 years, Neiger says the key is how close the group is and how much the students and volunteers care for each other.

"People feel the love and concern," she explained. "It's like being a part of a family with people who care about you. At the end of the day, we have a prayer circle and the kids always open up and tell us what they're thinking about. It's wonderful."