When I began my call to the ministry of Christian education, I was excited and focused on finding a position where I could use my knowledge and gifts in educational ministry. I was convinced that I would be helping children, youth and adults grow in their faith through providing quality educational opportunities in a congregation. I never imagined that I would be asked to be the staff resource person for virtually all the program committees, nor did I think I would be involved in founding a resource center for the underprivileged. Yet, these are just a few of the wonderful opportunities I have had.
I was first hired at First Presbyterian Church, Hudson, WI, as the director of Christian programs. While my primary focus was educational ministry, the position included resourcing the membership and mission committees as well as certain aspects of the worship and arts committee. It was an overwhelming prospect. It forced me to look at how I could use my gifts in educational ministry in ways I did not expect. At one point the membership committee asked me to research what was new and innovative in this area of ministry as well as provide resources to help them carry out their ministry more effectively. My education skills in finding and evaluating educational resources translated easily to the membership resources I was to provide them.
I used my knowledge of children’s development to suggest and implement changes in the Sunday morning schedule. Working with the Christian education and worship and arts committees, we moved Sunday School from during worship to after worship. Taking baby steps, we began the new schedule with a children’s church program that I planned and led. After a year we were able to do away with children’s church and encourage children to stay in worship. We have never looked back.
The second incarnation of my position brought even more challenges. As director of education and mission outreach, I was now the staff resource person for the Christian education and mission committees. While this was a more focused position, it also meant I needed to learn more about the ministry of mission and outreach. I found several resources that were helpful. The first one was Embracing God’s World: Involving the Congregation in Mission. This handbook provided background information on mission in the PC (USA) as well as ideas for encouraging congregational participation in mission opportunities.
What I soon came to realize was that, while educating myself about mission in the congregation was important, it was better to just jump in and get things moving. I became involved in two mission outreach ministries because I was willing to learn as I went along. It helped that both were ecumenical and community ministries so I was not going at this alone nor was I at the helm of either of these ministries. I surrounded myself with others who provided knowledge and support along the journey.
The first ministry was the Hudson Backpack Program. This ecumenical program provides backpacks filled with food to families in the school district who need it. In the beginning our congregation partnered with two other congregations to fill 50 backpacks each week for one school. My role became coordinator for our congregation. It was my job to make sure our 50 backpacks were filled once a month and delivered to the school. We needed to educate our congregation as well as get them excited enough to participate. In the second year of the program our congregation filled up to 30 backpacks twice a month for a different school in the district. I decided, in consultation with others, that we needed to expand our “menu,” so I instituted a “Meal Option” menu for our members to use when purchasing items for the backpacks. It was through this ministry that I expanded my knowledge and passion beyond educational ministry.
The second ministry I became involved in was the creation of The SOURCE (Serving Our Underserved Residents Compassionately and Equitably). The SOURCE is a resource center where residents can find assistance and resources to help them in their time of need. Being involved in the creation of this ministry forced me to expand my knowledge even further. I went searching for models that I thought might fit our situation. With this in mind I attended a workshop at an APCE Annual Event titled Helping Others: Servant or Sucker. Beth Templeton began by having us explore the culture of poverty, including the different levels of poverty. We then talked about how a person or congregation can begin to take on the issue of poverty in practical ways. I bought her book Loving Our Neighbor: A Thoughtful Approach to Helping People in Poverty, thinking specifically about The SOURCE. Through working with The SOURCE, I became aware of the importance of listening to the needs of the community and learning from others.
While I used my educational ministry skills and gifts in other areas of ministry, I found a new passion and skills in mission and outreach ministry. By being open to expanding my horizons beyond education ministry, I was able to continue to work at First Presbyterian Church. I urge those in educational ministry to be open to other avenues of ministry. You may find new passions, skills and gifts.
Congregational Ministries Publishing, Embracing God’s World: Involving the Congregation in Mission. Witherspoon Press, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202. (800) 728-7228, x8100
Loving Our Neighbor: A Thoughtful Approach to Helping People in Poverty, Beth Templeton. IUniverse, 1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403. 1-800-AUTHORS
Martha Rockenstein is the director of youth and family ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Hudson, WI. She is also the POINT Representative for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area PC(USA).