By Melinda Shunk
Children's Ministry Coordinator
Lakewood United Methodist Church in North Little Rock is a mid-sized church that worships about 450 congregates every Sunday. Lakewood sees such value in ministering to children that they have a created a team!
Most importantly, this dynamic duo has recognized each other’s spiritual gifts, and they know exactly the role each has as they minister to the children and their families at Lakewood UMC.
Rochelle Gray previously worked as a public school teacher but started working part-time in Children’s ministry 10 years ago. Her senior pastor really wanted her to go full-time five years ago, but she tried to keep a work/home balance that was right for her family.
Rochelle noticed Jill Dillman as a new member taking on more volunteer roles in Children’s Ministry. Jill approached Rochelle about her leading a children’s musical production. Jill was a high school drama and speech teacher, so she was drawn to creatively sharing God’s love in a musical production by children. Rochelle thought her over-eager volunteer was on to an excellent thing for the kids, so they began working on the musical.
Throughout the process of rehearsals, planning, and teaching the children, God blessed them with a beautiful working friendship. It was evident to Rochelle that God had called Jill into ministry as well. Rochelle encouraged Jill to apply for the second part-time position for Children’s Ministry that had been posted. Rochelle and Jill soon became co-ministers for children and families.
For the last four years, Rochelle and Jill have collaborated to plan their six-week Wednesday night programming that is designed to conclude with a Children’s Sabbath. They start by choosing specific scripture that focuses on a theme or big idea that they teach the 60 children that come to their Wednesday evening program. This year’s theme happened to be “Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly.”
Rochelle found Bible lessons that focused on the theme and worked on creating the artistic, hands-on aspects like the bulletin covers, offering bowls, paper floral arrangements and alter art that the children could work on each night. Jill wrote the service and assigned the dramatic skit parts. Jill teaches the children all aspect of worship: welcome, the passing of the peace, affirmation of faith, morning prayer, offering prayer, and the benediction.
The other part of their creative team is Gigi Parkhill who helps with the kids and the songs they learn on Wednesday nights. The Kindergarten through fifth-grade students rotates through Wednesday evening classes. Lisa Bryant works with the pre-kindergarten kids on Sunday morning so that they can be prepared to be part of the Children’s Sabbath.
At the end of the six weeks, parents were asked to have their children at church on Oct. 14 to lead two worship services for the congregation. More than 90 percent of the children and families who participated in classes on Wednesday night had their child there to lead worship that morning.
Members donated money so that all the children could have a uniformed worship T-shirt to wear. Music selections were a beautiful blend of traditional and contemporary choices. The third-graders received their Bibles during the Children’s moment and what usually would be the sermon time was something all ages would understand. For the sermon, the pastors were asked to come up while the students asked previously prepared questions they wanted to know about God. All were thoughtfully asked and answered questions by child and pastor.
God brought these two talented Children’s Ministers together to help minister and lead children and their families to worship. It is evident in more than just the once-a-year Children’s Sabbath Sunday.
Rochelle said that once they spend the fall learning worship, children take part in all jobs during any worship on any given Sunday. They feel equipped and want to serve their church and their God through worship.
Children’s Sabbath is just the beginning for the children at Lakewood UMC. Children are part of every worship, but one day a year they get to do it all. We are all children of God, so isn’t every Sunday Children’s Sabbath?