November 23, 2022
by Lee Ritchie
Last week I shared with you about my personal journey of sabbatical. Today I share with you how sabbatical was, and continues to be, a gift to our church and community as I studied children’s spirituality, shared in holy conversations, and was equipped to lead social emotional learning.
During sabbatical, I read Bridging Theory and Practice in Children’s Spirituality: New Directions for Education, Ministry, and Discipleship. This book is a series of papers presented at the Children’s Spirituality Summit in 2018 ranging from the study of teaching practices in children’s ministry over time, to nurturing the faith of children of all abilities, to helping children manage grief. These pieces grounded me in best practices, equipping me to be a stronger and more helpful leader for our teachers, parents, and children.
I entered into holy conversations about children’s spirituality as I visited with a handful of people who spend time with children, researching how children understand themselves in faith, and listening to other children’s ministers and practitioners. These conversations were sacred time to listen and dream for Children’s Ministry.
One gift of this time was to reimagine Journey for 6th Graders, a series of gatherings designed to help 6th graders as they enter middle school and prepare to move to Youth Ministry. We were following the life of Jesus and talking about their faith stories, but it seemed to be falling flat. Part of the new dream is for the children to make faith boxes for them to have tangible reminders of the faith story. The Youth Ministry is even considering how to incorporate this faith box idea with high school seniors so that they can look back on where God has been with them from 6th grade and through Youth Group as they launch into adulthood. Reflecting on our faith stories by putting them into words/symbols helps each of us examine and give thanks for where God is moving in our lives.
My family and I planned to spend time in Europe visiting my brother and his family who are stationed in Germany (not part of sabbatical). I went over a week ahead of my family to visit with Janée and Hary, our Encourager Church family, in Belgium. I was able to learn about Janée and Hary’s work with refugee families in their community. This is helpful for Children’s Ministry because on Sunday afternoons in Missions we have been learning about their family and how they serve in Belgium. This relationship building time allowed me to bring home ideas and experiences to our children for them to have a deeper connection to these mission partners. We have also been able to really connect with Phoebe and Maria-Grace, their daughters, asking questions in real time and knowing how we can specifically be praying for them each week.
As I spent time doing yoga, a large part of that course included social emotional learning which WSFC Schools utilize. The idea is that equipping children to be emotionally healthy and work through their feelings as children will strengthen them, not just every day in the classroom, but also each person as they grow into adulthood. Can you imagine launching emotionally healthy students into our community adding stability and good emotional and mental health? These tools help people (children and adults) to pay attention to their feelings and work through them to self-regulate. In our post-pandemic season, I believe children as well as adults need help learning and remembering how to deal with challenges. This work further prepared me to help our families at church walk through hard seasons. I also plan to connect to Moore Elementary to see how I can partner with the students and staff with social emotional learning.
An unplanned gift of sabbatical was being a guest at other churches. As I went on Sundays to each new church, I was able to see with new eyes. It is challenging to be a guest at a new place, especially if you have children that you are entrusting to the care of strangers. This experience helped me think through our process of helping guests have a safe and welcoming first impression.
I see the gift of sabbatical as you, the church, planting seeds. In some ways Children’s Ministry is already seeing the fruit of what was planted this summer. In other areas the fruit is still to come because God works in both the immediate and in what lies ahead. Thank you again for gifting me sabbatical for the good of my own renewal and for the benefit of this sacred community at Ardmore Baptist Church and the Ardmore neighborhood. I believe the work we do here is bringing about the God’s Kingdom right here and now.
Pictures: Me with Janée and Hary; a stained glass window at Duke Chapel where I had holy conversation with Phyllis Snyder