Are you inviting members of your church into ministry?

Barbara FreyBy Faith Formation Leadership Development Contributor Ashley Grant

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Rev. Barb Frey launched into descriptions of churches, making personal invitations and forging collaborative connections before we even got comfortable in the Resource Center at Spring Glen Church UCC in Hamden, CT where she now serves as the Coordinator of Christian Education. Barb is one of those Faith Formation gurus who teaches while she is telling and inspires through stories of others who have discerned their call, honed spiritual gifts and found important ministry niches throughout Connecticut.

“You want people in your Faith Formation ministries to be committed to their own Faith Formation,” she said of those whom she praised for their effective ministries, remembering a string of people like Deb Gerrity who became a youth leader. Turns out, Barb’s story reveals her commitment to her own lifelong faith formation--from memorizing Psalm 19:14 as a seventh grader to this new ministry at Spring Glen, which takes her back to her roots in this field of ministry.  

The value of a mentor’s notice

As an educator, Barb taught in Massachusetts and at the American School in Germany before returning to the US to settle down for her growing family. In 1985 Old Stone Church in East Haven needed a Christian Education Director and Barb stepped up. Knowing the importance of equipping oneself for ministry, she asked the church to send her to “that ACE course.”  This was the beginning of her mentee/mentorship relationships with Rev. Gini King and Rev. Sandra Benjamin, who shared insights, resources and collaborations with her.

How important it is when others see our gifts and connect them with opportunities!  Barb joyfully described how “Gini took a job description from the Guilford Church and waved it at me.” She applied. This would be Barb’s first paid Christian Education position, and it allowed her to continue teaching in New Haven on weekdays. During her time in Guilford, she enrolled at Hartford Seminary and became a Commissioned Minister.  

If you are wondering how she managed family, part-time teaching, part-time Christian Education and Seminary, Barb shared her secret, “No matter how busy, I always found time to walk and pray, read, and touch fabric.”  Her own faith tending involved caring for herself, practicing healthy habits and quilting.  Perhaps these helped her to continue discerning her call.

Her call led her to Kensington Congregational Church, as a full-time Minister of CE. While there, Barb felt called to ordained ministry and enrolled at Yale Divinity School to complete the Master of Divinity requirements. Rev. Gini King played a major role in her call discernment.  Barb says that she is a product of Gini’s mentorship at the CT Conference. “[Gini] is amazing!  My mentor.”  

Barb took advantage of every opportunity for sharpening her skills and enriching her theological training, which enabled her to implement programs like her “Bible Fun-shop” for families and to take on more responsibilities in Church ministry.  

Coming full circle to become a mentor  

Dawne Quinn served on the search committee that brought Barb to First Church of West Hartford as Associate Pastor. Barb and Dawne effortlessly related to each other, sharing an education background and a passion for sharing the joy of God with others.  Barb now held responsibilities of finding faith formation leaders and could draw from a wealth of church experiences.  When the position opened for a Christian Educator, Barb knew Dawne would be a great fit.  Part of her promise to Dawne was that she would continue to work with her.

The mentoring relationship between Barb and Dawne allowed them to lead effective teacher meetings, Bible workshops and what Barb called “The Market Place.”  You should have seen Barb light up as she talked about their collaboration to plan The Market Place and implement the rotation model experience for the whole congregation. Barb explained, “a mentor has to be willing to recede into the background for the sake of the [mentee].”  This authentic partnership is essential to helping faith formers succeed.  If done well Barb noted, “Faith Formation or Christian Education can revive a church, help it to be a place of joy, happiness and hope.” That was the case at First Church of West Hartford because Barb’s mentoring extended to volunteers and support spanned the congregation.

How do you call a lay person into faith formation ministry?  Invite, don’t recruit!  

Similar to recognizing Dawne’s gifts and skills, Barb noticed a dad of three who was great with kids.  Faith Formers witness edifying scenes like this each Sunday, if we are looking!  Barb said to the dad, “I’ve noticed how good you are with your own children.  You would be great with a Sunday School class.”

“Are you kidding?” responded the dad. To which Barb replied, “Sometimes other people name the things we can’t see… The curriculum is easy to use; you’ll have a team; and you will even get to go to worship.”  He became a great Sunday School teacher.

Barb takes the role of mentor seriously, a sacred commitment through her [pastoral role] and her educator vocation, to accompany the new faith former as he or she lives into their ministry.  Whether training the individual on using curriculum, working as team teachers, or encouraging the person to attend workshops like Stepping Stones (started by the Partners in Education) to develop skills or broaden passions, she cares about the faith formation of the faith formers!  

Ordained and lay alike should take some pointers from this Faith Former who knows the challenge of coordinating a handprint butterfly quilt for Sunday Schoolers to the pastoral tightrope of working with church goers who don’t want to work with you. Her wisdom is to make the invitation inclusive and fling the net wide. Then, you are liable to catch gifted teachers like Marrianne Ann Todd, a special education teacher, and Gladys Donnelly, a grandmother, former pew sitters at the Guilford Church.

What are three steps for encouraging someone to develop their faith formation leadership?  Barb suggests:

  1. “Become familiar with your resources: curriculum, building, etc. And then pray for guidance and courage.”
  2. “Communicate. Keep the volunteers up to speed and in the loop.”  
  3. “Provide resources and opportunities, assuring them that you are with them and will help find what they need.” Pray again for God’s help and presence.

Now I wonder what wonderful ministry is in store for Spring Glen Congregational Church. Barb is getting to know the gifted and diverse community there.  She talks to everybody and gets names of who would be good for this and that. She knows that not all invitations to ministry will be received, and that there will be challenges, but this is her m.o.--recognizing gifts in others, inviting them into ministry, and mentoring them so that they flourish for the sake of a Gospel that is too good not to share.    

Reflection Questions:

Are you inviting members of your church into ministry?  

Who is your mentor?  


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