To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1
This past spring, at least three congregations in the MA Conference experienced “the end of an era.” The era that I am referring to was when a typical local church could afford to hire a full-time Christian educator to guide its congregation in providing effective, up-to-date children’s, youth, and family ministry programming.
Three congregations said good-bye to their Christian educators in June after each of these women had discerned that the season in their lives for retirement had arrived — Merrill Noble after serving 14 years at the Congregational Church of Acton, Ruth Ann White, after serving 29 years at United Parish in Lunenburg, and Nancy Sides after serving 34 years at First Congregational Church in Westminster.
These three gifted women nurtured countless families in raising their children in the Christian faith. They accompanied their congregations’ youth through formative experiences such as mission trips and confirmation. A couple of them were blessed to have the children of former youth group members attend their Sunday School programs.
Each congregation celebrated their educator’s retirement with a special celebration, and each service of worship was a unique honoring of the ministry of Christian education and formation in which each of these women participated.
Merrill’s beautifully planned and executed education programs were lauded by her congregation. In particular, the worship and sacraments workshop that she offered for young children and their parents was mentioned more than once.
One of Ruth Ann’s former youth group members brought the congregation to tears when he said, “You were there for me the whole time. You could have written me off as the ‘bad kid,’ but you kept welcoming me back.”
Nancy’s congregation lifted up her sense of welcome and care for each and every person she encountered over the decades. They praised her as a strong advocate for children and youth in the church by literally moving them up out of the basement, and recognized the effect this would have on the survival of their church. Throughout the service they paid tribute to her goal of making disciples of each and every one of them.
And all of these women, when responding with gratitude for the love shown to them, reminded their congregations that all of these years of growth and faith-forming ministry were accomplished together, as the Body of Christ.
Each of these educators made this calling a second career by taking advantage of the Massachusetts Conference Christian Educator Certification program. And each of them went on to teach one of the classes in the Certification program years later. They also have faithfully attended their Christian Educator and Youth Leader Community of Practice for nurture and support in their ministries.
While this transition to the next phase of their lives may signal the end of one style of faith formation ministry, the Massachusetts Conference Christian Educator Certification program and CE Communities of Practice continue and guide today’s new Christian educators with adaptive skills to meet the needs of today’s changing congregations.
Well done good and faithful servants! Merrill, Ruth Ann, and Nancy, the Massachusetts Conference owes you a debt of gratitude and thanks for your ministry with your congregations, as well as to the Conference. Blessings on your retirement.
Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Associate for Faith Formation & Youth Ministries for the Conference.