My first ministry opportunity was at Lakeland First United Methodist. I was a freshman in college at Florida Southern College (my first week), and I boldly went to the office of Virginia Saari, the Director of Christian Education, and presented myself to serve.
Mrs. Saari immediately took me to the meet the students of the Sixth Grade Sunday School Class. I became the Student Assistant to a well-oiled machine. Well, as Christian Education major at FSC, I must confess I learned more about small groups and the spiritual education of students from Mrs. Saari than I ever did in class at FSC. Don't get me wrong; my classes were great and inspiring due to folks like Waite Willis, Frank Johnson, and John Cook. I really cut my teeth on ministry at their feet.
From there I was promoted to being an Intern with Youth (This is before we called them students.). Many great experiences blessed my life. It was there I met Jana Rowan, the preacher's daughter. She was a wild one, at least in my tamed existence. I enjoyed being her Youth Worker. I had 3 and a half years of education from some of the best people around. I lost touch with them as I moved to the big city of Atlanta and came to Candler.
While at Candler I worked as the Youth Minister at Salem UMC in Covington. I got to work along side other great folks who have influenced me and my ministry; folks like Jody Alderman who was the Youth Minister at Conyers, Alice Rogers, Amy Parsons (now Morgan), and Tom Elliott all associated with the Salem Camp Ground and classmates of mine. I would be remiss to forget Judd Hodges and Ralph Watson both senior pastors at Salem in my 3 years there. They helped my ministry to be grounded in North Georgia.
Today I often feel like that 18 year old boy stepping into the office of the formidable Virginia Saari as I come to your churches and offer myself in ministry. I'm not sure what the future (even in the next moments) will hold, but as the old gospel song goes, "He's never failed me yet!" Each day is a great adventure, and I'm so blessed that God has allowed me to share it in ministry with each of you. I hope we are each learning more and more each day for the Kingdom!
(Oh ... Jana Rowan, the wild preacher's kid; she is now Jana Rowan Ladner, Chair of the Administrative Board of the Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church! God is really really good.)