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This article was published 9/6/2018 (844 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For one small congregation in Transcona, the annual church calendar includes Christmas, Easter and bouncy castle season.
From mid-June to the end of the October, Pastor Rod Giesbrecht and volunteers from Tabor Baptist Church rent out their six inflatable bouncers to religious groups, community organizations and block parties.
"We give 100 per cent (of our fees) to overseas missions," says Giesbrecht, who spends much of his weekends setting up and taking down inflatables for various events.
This ministry has blown up from their first purchase of an inflatable climbing structure in 2004 to 80 rentals a year, plus children’s birthday parties inside the carpeted sanctuary of their century-old building in old Transcona.
Giesbrecht and his church make it incredibly easy to host a children’s birthday party, providing the bouncy castle, a small foam pit, and space in the lower level hall for refreshments and birthday cake, says West Kildonan dad John Adaskin during a celebration for his nine-year-old daughter Liviah.
"It’s a one-stop shop. Everything is included," he says of the $180 fee for a two-hour weekend party.
"I had a couple of birthdays here and they were amazing," adds Liviah, a Grade 3 student at Victory School.
The church donates all of its annual proceeds, just under $30,000, to international organizations, paying for insurance for the inflatables out of its regular budget.
After years of hosting parties, the two dozen or so regular Sunday worshippers are practised at stacking chairs, clearing away the sound system and unrolling the bouncy castle/slide in the middle of the sanctuary. The church’s sound system, pulpit and instruments remain on the raised platform at one end of the space.
"Every week, people are automatically trained to tear down," he says of what happens after the conclusion of their 10 a.m. Sunday worship.
With up to four birthday parties each weekend — three on Saturday and one on Sunday afternoon, and several rentals at off-site locations — bouncy castle season keeps Giesbrecht hopping from one event to another.
Occasionally, he hires a teenager needing work and a job reference to supervise when rentals pull him in two different directions. Mostly, the longtime trustee of River East Transcona School Division works alone, loading up the deflated inflatables onto his pickup and driving them across the city, and even to nearby Hutterite colonies, for a minimum of three hours of bouncy fun.
He depends on venue volunteers to supervise children inside the inflatables, but the part-time hospital chaplain and nearly full-time health-care aide will jump in to ensure safety rules are followed.
"I’m the bad guy who says, ‘Don’t do that. It’s not safe," says Giesbrecht, 54, who works about 30 hours a week at Tabor Baptist for an annual salary of $5,000.
That’s not the only challenge involved in running the service. Giesbrecht buys inflatables that should fit inside their 4.3-metre-high main-floor sanctuary, but sometimes the height indicated on the box is inaccurate.
"We have two that comfortably fit (inside) and one that just fits," he says, pointing to the bouncer/slide situated between hanging lights and ceiling fans of the modest-sized church, which features murals on its front and back exterior walls.
To date, rentals of the inflatables have raised about $200,000 for international ministry projects supporting refugees in Bangkok; orphanages in Zambia, Bangladesh and Myanmar; and constructing a high school in Nigeria.
The bouncers have also helped the Transcona church, established in 1955, create community right at home. During good weather, Giesbrecht sets up an inflatable in the lawn between the church and his home next door for after-school fun for local children.
He has also has built relationships with people from many faith traditions who rent the inflatables, and even connected a few of them with each other.
"One of the things we’ve learned about inflatables is they don’t have a lot of lines," Giesbrecht says about the variety of groups who rent from his church for their summer events.
And during bouncy castle season, Giesbrecht enjoys seeing the smiles and hearing the squeals of children having fun on an inflatable.
"I love what I’m doing," the graduate of Providence Seminary says.
"I’m called by God to serve."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
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