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SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2007
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Sarah Harper, right, created a handwritten newspaper to raise money for playground equipment for her church, Pleasant Grove United Methodist in Hulaco. In background, Chase, left, and Keira Pitts.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Sarah Harper, right, created a handwritten newspaper to raise money for playground equipment for her church, Pleasant Grove United Methodist in Hulaco. In background, Chase, left, and Keira Pitts.

'The Lord's' reporter
11-year-old girl and friend publish newspaper to fund church playground

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com · 340-2468

HULACO - On a muggy September afternoon in a churchyard, 11-year-old Sarah Harper and two young friends gave play equipment a workout.

They climbed and swung and hammed it up for a photographer.

Extra, extra: Sarah Harper's 'The Lord's News' includes stories such as the pastor recovering from surgery and getting to drive again. It mentioned Carrie Underwood's song 'Jesus, Take the Wheel' and teased that Jesus was steering for the preacher.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Extra, extra: Sarah Harper's "The Lord's News" includes stories such as the pastor recovering from surgery and getting to drive again. It mentioned Carrie Underwood's song "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and teased that Jesus was steering for the preacher.
The spot is not just a play place for Sarah. It is where she put into practice "love thy neighbor" and "give and it shall be given unto you."

It is also where adults have drawn inspiration, in part from Sarah.

Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, founded in 1837, is on Alabama 67 in the far southeast corner of Morgan County. Membership is 37, said the Rev. John W. Clark, pastor.

The brick building and the church cemetery are well-kept and sit on 27 acres.

Sarah loves the people of her church, she said. They so loved her back that when she wanted to create a playground, they started emptying their pockets.

Last spring during a classroom break at Fairview School, Sarah said, she wondered how her church could give community children a place to play. Around Pleasant Grove, pastures are many but parks are few.

Her brainstorm was to publish a newspaper and give it in exchange for donations to a playground fund. She told her mother, Karen Foster Harper.

Harper said her daughter dreamed up the paper and has kept it going every week since April 1.

Handwritten

Sarah enlisted her friend Rachel Meadow to help. The girls hand-write "The Lord's News" and get it printed on a copier. One story in the premiere issue was "The Mystery of the Buttercups." The girls marveled at the buttercup daffodils blooming around the church.

"Who planted them? We would like to thank them for making beauty around the church. If you know please tell!" they wrote.

Another article told about the pastor recovering from surgery and getting to drive again. It mentioned Carrie Underwood's song "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and teased that Jesus was steering for the preacher.

A piece in another issue suggested:

1. Invite someone to church. 2. Read the Bible every night. 3. Help make the church beautiful. 4. Help God touch a kid.

“If we don’t have any ideas for the next paper yet, we go and ask adults. We usually write about events. And we usually have a joke,” Sarah said.

Their Easter joke was, “Why did the rabbit cross the road? He was hopping mad.” Every edition prints these words that Clark speaks each week: God is good all the time. All the time God is good.

The ‘ultimate’

Sarah and Rachel printed prices for play equipment, from a basic swing set for a few hundred dollars to an “ultimate” set for more than $1,000. The church couldn’t resist the “ultimate” option, despite the expense.

The church has held a car wash, a cookie sale, a yard sale and an aluminum can drive to supplement what the paper has raised.

After buying more swings and a seesaw, the church has spent about $1,500.

Harper, who has worked as a radio personality and now has a marketing firm, said her only role in “The Lord’s News” has been to make a few corrections and run copies.

Regina Matthews, Sarah’s aunt, said adults are learning much from the girls.

Clark and his wife, Betty, said children are the congregation’s greatest assets. Rachel’s family recently joined the church, influenced in part by Sarah, the Clarks said.

“We are a small church but so blessed,” said Betty Clark.

‘The Grove Group’

Sarah and Rachel started teaching younger children on Wednesdays, dubbing them “The Grove Group.” They have done puppet shows and created a chalk drawing on concrete. Betty Clark said the drawing showed her and her husband, whom members call “Brother Jay,” guarded by angels.

A similar picture in “The Lord’s News” had Clark with a balding head and his wife with curls. The angels wear big smiles.

Fire report

One Sunday the girls’ paper told about a fire scorching siding on the back of the church. Members said last week that the playground might have saved the church from severe damage. They said people walking to the play area noticed the burned area and alerted the Clarks.

Morgan County Chief Deputy Mike Corley told The Daily on July 29 there was evidence of foul play but little information about who was responsible.

The girls wrote, “We are blessed it didn’t burn (the church) all down.”

Sarah has another idea for the church property — a walking trail marked with Bible verse signs. She said Pleasant Grove is special because it is family.

“And we like each other a lot,” her mother added.

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