By: Linda Williams
Being called to the vocation of a Christian educator does not always end when an educator packs up his or her books, markers, folders and file cabinet contents; or when the church throws a farewell/thank you retirement party. And retirement isn’t always what one imagines it will be. God has a sense of humor and often changes carefully laid plans as the retiree finds her or himself walking a different pathway than expected.
Gifts for ministry and years of experience continue to be valuable offerings. Educators can find surprises in doing ministry in new places and in new ways that they may not have encountered in their previous work.
Here’s what we two “retired” educators have to share:
Linda: I always envisioned spending my retirement taking care of grandchildren, serving as a volunteer in my home church, and occasionally consulting with a neighboring church about their educational ministry. God had other ideas.
Mary Lou: My ideas were similar, but I retired from a regular educational staff position to a consultant’s position and then to a more fully voluntary leader position within my home congregation and in the presbytery.
Linda: I remember that I thought it was a really good plan. Shortly after I announced my retirement, I was offered a part-time position as an interim educator to which I felt strongly called.
Mary Lou: As I moved to a new state and had to develop a new circle of contacts, I began to volunteer at the presbytery resource center and in my new congregation. I helped lead some women’s Bible studies and then was asked to lead a women’s retreat for the congregation.
Linda: Feeling called back into the local church from an administrative position at the presbytery was a real surprise. I hadn’t sat on the floor with children in quite a while. But the longer I was there, the more I knew that this was God’s call on my life for the present.
Mary Lou: I really feel that my work in this congregation is a call to use my gifts for ministry in their midst. I’m helping to lead an adult church school class and chairing the Christian Education Committee. Last summer, I even taught in a community Vacation Bible School program in which our church participated. I hadn’t spent a week focused on 10 second graders in quite a while!
Linda: Spending time talking about Jesus, playing games, singing songs and acting out stories has brought such joy into my life. I particularly feel when I teach an adult Bible study group that I am serving God in another way. Being part of “walking along side” children or adults on their faith journeys enhances my own journey. It is a special gift.
Mary Lou: Sharing the journey and the experience of educational ministry with those in the School of the Laity in our presbytery to help them as they are preparing to be commissioned to serve congregations is another joy I have. Other times I will get a phone call from a church just asking a question regarding information on educational resources or sometimes I will have a conversation with our church’s director of children’s ministries about an idea I have that I think might be something we could think about working on in our congregation’s educational ministry program.
Linda: Isn’t it fun to see teachers and other leaders grow in their faith? I set up a spirituality center a few years ago for the confirmation class and found adults and upper elementary children praying and creating artwork in the center. Several confirmands still talk with me about that particular experience. Every year I go home from the APCE Annual Event and Eastern Region APCE event with new ideas. It is such an honor to teach and lead workshops with colleagues in ministry.
Mary Lou: Part of the wonder of growing older is that we have this wealth of knowledge and experience and we are able to share it in so many ways. We’re also still anxious to learn even more. I delight in doing a workshop at our presbytery day of “Celebrate” where we equip folks, primarily from smaller congregations who are so thankful for ideas and resources that make their ministries more vital. And, like Linda, I rejoice when I can find places that I can enhance my skills and store of information.
Linda: Yes! Being part of a planning group that designs a day away for educators twice a year keeps me connected to others in educational ministries and new and innovative ideas. It seems as though that label of “retired” has a renewed meaning as educators find new ways of being the persons that they have been in their past vocational lives. With so many gifts to share and an abundance of needs in the churches, there are many niches that can be filled by those who move from being full or even part-time employees into a new level of work or avocation. God’s call is still quite clear for those who want to continue to find places in educational ministry…the gifts do not go away. n
Mary Lou Ferris Nash
Mary Lou Ferris Nash is a Certified Associate Christian Educator, previously on the staff of Redstone Presbytery, Greensburg, PA, and Latrobe Presbyterian Church. She now lives in Asheville, NC, and does consulting in Christian Education.
Linda Williams retired in 2005 from the Pittsburgh Presbytery staff after having served as the director of disciplemaking and spiritual growth for 13 years. In retirement she has served as an interim educator and now works part time as the Director of Christian Education at the Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon in Pittsburgh, PA.