By John L. Guerra
Every fall, after the summer heat breaks and cool breezes awaken, families flock to Heritage Methodist United Methodist Church to walk its pumpkin patch.
The Clearwater church, at 2680 Landmark Drive, has hosted pumpkin pickers for more than 20 years, ordering at least two semi-tractor trailer loads every Halloween season, said Kirk Baugher, one of the many church volunteers who guide families and little kids looking for that perfect pumpkin or Jack-o’-lantern.
In some years, the pumpkins come from as far as New Mexico, Baugher said.
“We get a new family arriving every five minutes and at other times, we might get a small line — it’s kind of steady,” Baugher said.
The pumpkins, arrayed on pallets in the church yard, are overseen by plywood cutouts of Halloween ghosts, scarecrows, and even Winnie the Pooh.
In another corner of the church yard, wooden benches are arranged before a small stage; it’s used for reading Halloween and other stories to youngsters.
“The elementary school will bring classes over and our preschool will do readings here, too,” Baugher said.
Young families with small children are look over the lanes of pumpkins and gourds, arrayed by size.
Children lean over to closely inspect each one as parents coach them on their choices.
Brooke Orr and her youngster, Eliza Kate Orr, 4, find the one they are looking for. It’s a little bit too big for her to carry, so her mother helps.
When asked what she likes the most about Halloween, Eliza Kate knows a silly question when she hears one.
“Candy!” she squeaks, with a look that says everyone knows that.
Rabia and her young associate Zahara relax on a bench taking in the fall atmosphere. This is their first year visiting the Heritage UMC pumpkin patch. They take a thoroughly artistic approach to their Jack-o’-lanterns.
“We paint the pumpkins and we keep them as long as they stay fresh,” Rabia said. “We cut them open and we feed the birds with them. We also roast the seeds.”
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Baugher and his two youngsters – Ella and Andrew – help measure the circumference of each pumpkin and, using a price marked on the tape, ring up each purchase.
“The money raised helps fund our youth programs and our youth ministries, Kirk Baugher said. “It helps pay for our domestic and overseas missions.”
The church’s website states that the church is “dedicated to bringing the saving grace of Jesus Christ to people across the street and around the world.”
Heritage currently has partnerships in seven different countries, including Zambia, where its missionaries build churches, gain new followers, and create disciples of Jesus Christ.
“We have chosen missionary partners that are actively planting new churches in their countries and have opportunities for us to send teams to work with them,” church officials said.
The pumpkin patch also helps the church’s home programs, too.
The Lighthouse is a student ministry, for instance, is focused on helping teens build relationships with God and each other, according to the church’s website.
The pumpkin patch continues until Halloween; another truckload is set to arrive on Oct. 24, Kirk Baugher said. Once the patch ends for the year, left-over pumpkins will be available for “someone who wants to make a lot of pumpkin pie, I don’t know,” Baugher laughed.
Heritage UMC, led by senior pastor Matt Horan, can be reached at 727-796-1329.
Heritage United Methodist Church
2680 Landmark Dr, Clearwater, FL 33761
John Lawrence is a free-lance writer who has covered Florida events for decades. He enjoys covering the people and places of Clearwater. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.