The Growth of the Children’s Ministry at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Mike Sweitzer-Beckman Benedictine Bridge Leave a Comment

The Sunday Assembly Children’s Ministry kids deliver
567 pounds of food 
to the Middleton Outreach Ministry
food pantry. (Photo by Bob Marshall)

For where two or three are gathered
in my name, I am there among them.
-Matthew 18:20, New Revised Standard Version

There was a time when it was rare to see any children at Sunday Assembly worship at Holy Wisdom Monastery. About three years ago, a few volunteers went out on a limb to launch a children’s ministry here, possibly relying on the sentiment of this scripture from Matthew. Now the ministry grows dramatically each year.

Children’s ministry began in 2009 with the vision of a few Sunday Assembly members such as Barb Abbott, Sally Bowers and Rita Emmenegger, who didn’t have children of their own in this ministry, but saw a need for providing education and a space for young people. During the 2009-2010 school year, these three got the ball rolling with sessions every other Sunday in coordination with our director of worship and music, Lynn Lemberger. There were about a dozen kids enrolled that year.

For the 2010-2011 school year, these three volunteers passed the baton on to some committed parents who had children in the ministry, including Ann Baltes, Tara White, Barb Urmann and Barb Oswald. It continued twice a month as a completely volunteer-led program. An ecumenical children’s ministry curriculum was purchased from the Center for Progressive Christianity. The curriculum is unique because it is ecumenical. The curriculum isn’t focus on one doctrine from one denomination, but rather is very Jesus-centered and emphasizes ethics and morals for children to consider in their faith formation.

During the 2011-2012 school year, the ministry continued to grow and more Sunday Assembly members (parents and non-parents alike) got involved with the instruction. The ministry expanded into two groups: children’s ministry for kids ages three to eight, and youth ministry for kids ages nine to 13. Lessons for the older students are from Faith Practices, published by Pilgrim Press, and focus on the topics of hospitality, praying and living joyfully and stewardship. The enrollment doubled to about 26 regular children participants. Some new families with children joined Sunday Assembly in part due to the offering of children’s and youth ministry.

In addition to the classes and lessons, the students and their families have organized a food drive every November. Last year a total of 567 pounds of food and household supplies were delivered to Middleton Outreach Ministry. Twice during the school year students are mentored by parents, teachers and a number of adults in Sunday Assembly and serve in various liturgical ministries for our Sunday worship. Students were greeters, lectors, cantors, instrumentalists and shared their talents and gifts leading the assembly in prayer and song.

I had a chance to sit down with several parents whose children participate in children’s and youth ministry:

  • Joe Andrews and Colleen Mahoney adopted three biological siblings from Ethiopia in September 2011: Zenebework (9 years old), Fantu (7), and Biniam (5). The kids already had experience in Ethiopia in some Orthodox traditions, so it has become important for Joe and Colleen to expose their kids to as many different strands of Christianity as possible. They find Holy Wisdom Monastery to be a very welcoming community for everyone, and there is a sense of camaraderie and participation in the children’s ministry. They appreciate that there is an emphasis on respecting other people and cultures, caring for the land, and a focusing on justice issues for kids by participating in a local food drive. Last autumn, Joe brought the kids here to help the sisters with some apple picking, and really appreciated that the children’s church space was much more than a building, but included 100 acres of restored prairie to walk in as well.


  • Bob and Nanci Marshall’s daughter Katherine (14 years old) has been participating in youth ministry for a few years now. Holy Wisdom Monastery has been a good fit for this family because Nanci was raised Lutheran, and Bob was raised Catholic. They used to attend different churches each Sunday but the monastery became an option for them to actively participate together. Katherine likes being introduced to other Christian traditions and cultures at Holy Wisdom Monastery, and has especially enjoyed the opportunities to sing and play music for the congregation annually when Holy Wisdom Monastery hosts a children’s ministry worship.


  • Tara White and Armando Hernandez have two kids involved in children’s and youth ministry: Isa (10 years old) and Eva (7). Tara and Armando began attending worship here when Isa was an infant, and really came to appreciate the gender-inclusive language used here as well as the many roles for participation by members in the worship services. Armando has found a home through participation in the oblate community as well as being a member of the Sunday Assembly Council, while Tara has taken a strong leadership role in coordinating the Children’s and Youth Ministry. She finds it encouraging that more and more young people are attending worship here, and the children’s and youth ministry provides a hands-on, sensory-engaging way for participation at church. She has also found Sisters Mary David Walgenbach, Joanne Kollasch and Lynne Smith to be completely supportive of the ministry. This past year, the three sisters took part in teaching a few sessions during the academic year. Tara noted that there was a more contemplative presence during these sessions, which, of course, adds to the breadth of the experience for the children.


  • Barb and Chuck Urmann have three children who participate: Nicholas (10 years old), Jake (9) and Tia (8). Barb has taken a central role in coordinating children’s ministry. She appreciates coming to Holy Wisdom Monastery for worship because it’s a welcoming environment for parents and kids alike.

We are pleased to announce the schedule for children’s and youth ministry for the 2012-2013 academic year! It’s a great way to connect with other parents and their children while participating in our ecumenical Eucharist services on Sundays at 9:00 am.

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