By REBECCA WALLACE
DeDe Reilly has been a Children’s Minister for 25 years, and has relied on networking groups for Children’s Ministers in the North Georgia Conference for almost the same amount of time.
“You can read books on how to do your job, but typically the people who write these books aren’t in the trenches,” she explained. She knew she needed to learn from other people “in the trenches,” so she started a group for networking with her peers. “The members of this group were and are very gifted in different areas.”
Currently at McEachern UMC in the Atlanta-Marietta District, DeDe regularly networks with about 16 other children’s ministers in her district. They meet monthly for lunch. She says the networking group is critical for strengthening skills for the “nuts and bolts” of things like putting together a budget. She explained that the Children’s Minister position in most churches is unique.
“Many aren’t called to seminary, but are called to professional ministry. Others of us are volunteers, so we really rely on each other in order to grow and develop in our job,” she said.
Amy May with McDonough First UMC in the Griffin District agrees.
“When I first started, I didn’t know the children’s minister down the road from me! I felt really alone. It’s essential to have folks to turn to, especially someone that has a United Methodist perspective,” she said.
Some of the more experienced children’s ministers like DeDe have been a big source of support for newer children's ministers like Amy. People from different churches, different towns and different generations often make the best sounding board, Amy explains.
United Methodist church staff from different generations can also challenge each other. Amy, for instance, is exploring how children’s ministers can go without using plastic, and she’s asking her colleagues to do the same.
“It’s baby steps, but if we are trying to incorporate social justice into our jobs, it only makes sense to share what we’ve accomplished so that others can try,” said Amy.
In addition to being part of a group to share ideas, best practices, and simply how to to do the job, many long-time members of DeDe’s group will say it has been their saving grace.
“We encourage one another. We remind each other that God called us to minister children, and it’s not always easy. We affirm each other’s call.” Because of the trust built within these groups, the members even help each other with career decisions, according to DeDe.
One more plus of the children’s ministry networking groups is that many of them conduct joint trips and events for their programs. “So not only do we get to see one other on a social basis, and even better, share the duties on putting on some of these events, but the children get to mingle with kids outside their church,” said Amy. “It teaches the children the value of being connected.”
“We truly are better together,” DeDe added.
Rebecca Wallace is a communications consultant (and United Methodist) in Atlanta. Learn more about all District Children's Ministry Networking Groups at www.ngumc.org/districtnetworkinggroupsforchildrensministry.