Reframing Ministry Post-Pandemic

The past year has been challenging to say the least.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives and our ministries, but we have also learned some lessons about what is truly important in youth ministry. Many of us are looking towards a relaunch of our youth ministry, because we cannot just go back to doing what we have always done. Leaders from Holston, East Ohio and South Carolina Annual Conferences have come together to create a coaching program to help youth leaders rethink, refocus, reimagine and relaunch ministries. The cohort is set up to include four group coaching sessions and in between the group meetings there will also be individual coaching sessions.  This podcast shares some insight into our thoughts on reframing ministry post pandemic as we discuss rethinking, refocusing, reimagining and relaunching ministry.

Please fill out this form if you are interested in joining a cohort:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1_G_8jsnH7vsc04w7MRMY4hN1v6gxb0JGenCiCJQbfjw/edit

Podcast:

One Year Later

On the anniversary of the day our world began to shut down, I invited some of my crew to talk about what we have learned, how we survived and who we have become during this past year. We also begin the discussion about moving forward. The other lesson we share in this podcast is the importance of finding your “crew” to journey with you. No matter your profession, we have all been called. You crew shares in the call and supports you through it. Find your crew! It makes things like a pandemic way easier!

Podcast:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/practicallyhonest/practically-honest-one-year-later

The History of Black History Month

I do not remember. being a white student in a predominately white small town in Ohio, ever celebrating Black History Month. February was a time to recognize President’s Day when I was growing up. We did not learn much at all about African Americans who had contributed to the history of our country. However, the idea of dedicating a month to celebrating African Americans has been long in the making.

In 1915 historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. He picked this week because it included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Dougalss, two key figures in the history of African Americans.

President Ford, in 1975, issued a message on the Observance of Black History Week urging all Americans to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.” Then in 1976 the commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to the whole month and President Ford issued the first message on the observance of Black History Month.

1986 saw the passage of Public Law 99-244 by Congress which designated February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” This law noted that February 1, 1986 would “Mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History.” The law further directed the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe February 1986 as Black History Month with the appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Regan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443 which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation stated further that this month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion.”

The 1619 Project was launched in August of 2019, on the 400th year anniversary of slavery in the United States. This initiative, started by The New York Times Magazine, aims to reframe our country’s history by “putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. You can find the link to this project here:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html

Why do we need to celebrate Black History Month? This is a question we wrestle with in the podcast. We reference a Morgan Freeman interview on 60 Minutes from 11 years ago. Here is a link to that interview:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=morgan+freeman+on+black+history+month+full+interview

In response to this question and Freeman’s conversation, is this quote from Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Director of Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture:

“I would suggest that you can tell a great deal about a people, a country by what it deems important
enough to remember, what they built monuments to celebrate, what graces a country’s museums or
what holidays they embrace. Yet I would argue that we learn even more about a country by what it
chooses to forget, what it cloaks in silence. Nowhere is this silence more deafening then when countries
are confronted with the issue of slavery and the slave trade.”

So, the need for Black History Month exists still because we still do not have a true representation in our history books of slavery in our country and all the contributions made by African Americans in this country.

Take a listen to the podcast as we discuss this and much more. Please give us a like, follow and share and leave us your comments.

https://www.spreaker.com/show/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger

The Importance of Diversity

In this podcast we explore the reasons why a diverse representation on any board, company or group is so important. We really stretch ourselves and truly grow when we are able to work with people who are not exactly like us. As we start to expand our circle and learn from others, we gain a deeper understanding of how and why people are who they are which helps us understand ourselves even better. This diversity includes and is not limited to race, socioeconomic, gender and age. In the church, we especially see the lack of diversity in leadership positions. Take a few minutes and really think about who is making the decisions around you, what is on TV, what movies are made, what books get written and promoted, who is teaching your children, etc.

There are a few questions you should be sure you make a part of the conversation of the team when you start to include different voices. Some suggested in the Podcast are:

  • Who are you? (How do you define yourself?)
  • What similarities do you have with others in your group?
  • What differences do you have?
  • How can those similarities and differences define your group?

Once we recognize the need for new, different and diverse people to invite to be a part of the conversation, it becomes a priority to be intentional about invitations. However, it is vital that the invitation is not just for a person(s) to fill a spot, but to have a voice. The hardest part about having new voices is listening to new ideas and being willing to change our thinking and the way we “have always done” things. If the groups does not acknowledge the importance of having an open mind to others’ thoughts, then the inclusive effort will fail. Having open and honest conversations about our own feelings of fear or trepidations of change and new ideas is all a part of inclusivity. The most successful move forward includes partnerships and mentoring relationships and we work to understand one another.

So, take a few minutes and ask yourself where are the places in my life that would benefit from conversations with others that are different from me? How can you reach out to new, diverse and different people in order to invite them into these spaces and places? What will it take for you to listen and grow from these relationships?

Please share your experiences with us and enjoy our podcast. Leave us any thoughts, and like and share this with others.

Book referenced in podcast: https://shop.fulleryouthinstitute.org/products/growing-young

Podcast:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger/id1434070440?uo=4

Post-Truth

As we turn the calendar to February, and celebrate Black History Month, we start with this podcast about Post-Truth. What is it? It is this time we are living where “alternative facts” have replaced scientific facts and feelings have more weight than these facts.

Post-truth is an ideology where people try to compel others to believe something without regards to the facts or evidence. Some believe this era that we are living started 20 years ago when people didn’t believe facts about smoking, vaccines, or climate change. Couple this with the use of the internet and now social media, and the conditions are perfect for post-truth.

What do you believe? Who do you believe? Where do you find your truth? What shapes you? What do you believe as “truth”? Is it politics? Science? Theology? All questions we should be asking ourselves and the young people around us.

This could make a great discussion for a small group or your friends. Let us know your thoughts and your conclusions.

Dictionary definition of Post Truth https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/post-truth

National Geographic article referenced in podcast: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2015/03/science-doubters-climate-change-vaccinations-gmos

Barna study referred to in podcast:

/https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/

Podcast:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger/id1434070440?uo=4

Mom of a Marine

Two years ago today, we sent our son off to Marine boot camp. It’s a day I will never forget, and one I never want to relive. After his first year at college, he decided it wasn’t for him. He explored his options and decided he wanted to be a Marine. This took some getting used to, but we never said no which surprised him. He turned 20 during those 13 weeks of boot camp, and through all my tears and worry, I grew stronger as a person and a mom. I remember sitting down next to a colleague, a Marine Dad, the next day in a meeting, and he told me this may be hard now, but just wait for graduation day, it will be the proudest day of your life. Those words stayed with me, and proved to be absolutely true.

Looking back, it was exactly what he needed to do and the best decision he has made. He has learned a trade that, if he choses, will allow him to make six figures in the civilian world. He can take college classes while he is serving, and he can finish his degree, for free. We don’t know what the future holds or what he will decide for his career, but as parents, we are excited that he has options.

I share our story with you in this blog and podcast simply for other parents to see that college is not the only option or even the right one for every high school graduate. Sometimes it is the path taken because nothing else is considered or even accepted. Our son graduated with an awesome GPA, is quite smart, was studying engineering and playing soccer in college. But none of that mattered because he was not happy. We do have a few military family members, so we were not opposed to him joining; however, quite honestly, I was selfish and just didn’t want MY son serving. But now I proudly say, my son is a Marine. It’s still not easy. The amount of time we spend together is short. We are so thankful that at the moment is serves on U.S. soil. (I pray for those family members that are not a fortunate to say that.) We have hopes and dreams for our children the minute we find out we will be parents. Sometimes, our dreams for them do not line up with their goals. While this isn’t easy, there comes a point in their lives that we must believe we have raised them the best we can and it is time for them to soar. After all, they are God’s children first. God will be with them through it all, even those times we are not near.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Listen to “Practically Honest_Being_A_Marine_Mom” on Spreaker.

Youth Ministry in Disruption

Book Response and Review

This book emerged during a time we were all reeling and trying to find our grounding in ministry. There are 26 chapters written by 26 different authors that cover everything from historical and theological encouragement to issues to think about, missteps and learning and what we are trying. Here are some of the words that inspired me and some of my thoughts and reactions. I have also included a few of our Regional Coordinators’ reviews.

On page 29, Dr. Andrew Root writes, “At this time, Youth ministry needs to be exposing young people to stories of people in their church communities who have found God in moments of long and loss, of hope and hardship.” This is a perfect example of a way to create community between our young people and older congregational members. Why not invite these members to share these stories either on a live Zoom or recorded to share with your teen/young adult small groups? How can you do this very thing in your groups? What ideas do you have to create community and connection between generations?

“Loneliness & Human Connection” is the title for Chapter 3 written by Crystal Chiang. This is a vital topic. While Generations Z and Millenials continue to isolate themselves from face to face interactions, this pandemic has only amplyfied this problem. Chiang says that youth leaders need to reimagine how, when, where and why teenagers gather. (p. 34) We know that teens gather in places where there are others teens, this isn’t anything new. However, how can we create places and spaces for these gatherings given our current climate?

Sam Halverson, in Chapter 5, talks about teens as the treasures of our churches. He says, “[W]hen we refuse to use our young people, we miss out on enjoying the investment.” (43) Online worship is a perfect time to invite teens and young adults to become involved. Something as simple as recording themselves readhing scripture, sharing their gift of music or sharing their stories and all be incorporated into the online worship experience. Don’t miss this opportunity to engage them in the life of the church, even now during this pandemic. How are you giving teens/young adults opportunities to serve?

Chapters 8-14 make up a section of the book titled, “Missteps and Learning.” These authors remind us to give ourselves grace as we begin to navigate ministry during this unprecedented time. In fact, one of my favorite quotes comes from Kevin Libick on page 61, “Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.” It is important for us to redefine success based on our values, on input not output. Celebrate all students, not just those who are showing up. Focus lesson production and more on connection. The one complaint I received constantly was the lack of time students had for church. Now they have more time, but we can’t be physically together the way we are used to. But there is no reason you can’t connect. How will you change the way you define success in ministry?

The final chapters share some great ministry ideas that have worked for some. Everything from a Late-Night Talk Show to a Virtual School Study Hall and rethinking Confirmation. All these ideas motivate us to rethink ministry in our own context. What have you tried that has worked, even for a short while? Are there other attempts that didn’t work?

Mark Oestreicher’s book has come at an important time as we are all searching for ways to continue youth ministry during this disruption. It is a quick read with several different voices that inspires us to move forward in new ways to spread the gospel message of love and grace to our teens while creating community.

Book Reviews: (From Regional Coordinators. 1-5 pizza slices, 5 being the highest.)

🍕🍕🍕🍕”This book is such a timely, relevant resource that is so needed in what is surely a season of disruption! Loved the great, practical advice, stemming from both losses and wins, coming from youth leaders who have been serving in this season and know the struggle.” Chasity Opphile, Regional Coordinator


🍕🍕🍕🍕”Full of practical steps,Youth Ministry in the Season of Disruption includes a slew of ideas that will both encourage and inspire any youth leader as they face the continued uncertainty of ministering to teens in the covid age. More importantly, this book reminds any leader that they are not alone in their pursuit of hope, navigating with care the frustration and lament wrought by a global pandemic. General Editor Mark Oestreicher assembles a variety of unique voices who provide innovative insight and timely truth. It’s a breath of fresh air that just might assist in the needed transformation of student ministry in the 21st century.” Tim Beck, Regional Coordinator

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger/id1434070440?uo=4

Calling for Unity

***Disclaimer…I do not intend for this post to be politically charged or meant to support any political biases***

Given the recent madness and violence in our country, I do not believe that it is ironic that this is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and that the Inauguration falls in the same week. As I have watched in horror the videos of everything that happened in Washington DC on January 6th, and all the social media rampage in the aftermath, I couldn’t help but wonder how our political afflictions gained priority over our Christian call.

I realize that because of our faith convictions, we tend to support one political party or candidate over another; however, how in the world, brothers and sisters, have we got to this place in our country? The amount of hate spewed at one another at one another on social media is appalling. We have allowed those platforms to be a place of hate for our fellow Christians for the whole world to see. How is this being a witness for Christ?

As we also celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King today, and his message of unity, be inspired by this quote from him. “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” While he was addressing the importance of unity between races and ethnicities, I suggest that we also use his words to motivate us to seek Christian Unity no matter where our differences lay.

Let’s focus on some scripture to pull us back together. After all, we are on the same team and need to work TOGETHER to further the kingdom of God because we have been called by God, no matter your gender, race, ethnicity, or political affiliation, we are ALL CALLED. If you lead, live or work with teens or young adults, you can use this as a time of devotion with them or allow it to be a conversation starter. They are watching and learning from the adults around them, may we be a positive example for this generation.

John 15:16-17: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2015%3A16&version=NIV says that God chose us, we don’t choose Him, He picks us to go and bear fruit that lasts. Meaning, when we spread love, peace, kindness, gentleness, (Fruits of the Spirit: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%205%3A22-23&version=NIV) they last.

  • What are some ways we can do this? Especially now we we can not always be with people physically?
  • What are some ways to handle a situation with someone when we don’t agree with them?
  • What are some ways that God has called you to spread “fruit”?
  • How has politics and faith intersected in your life? Has your faith shaped your political views?
  • This week is Christian Unity Week, how can we become a part of unifying Christians? Is it too big of a chasm for us to do anything about repairing?
  • Since this is MLK Day, what do you know about his work that helped to unify people/Christians?

Prayer: (Modified for young people from the link below)

God of love, Jesus told us that you did not chose me, but I chose you. You pursue us, and invite us into a friendship with you. Show is how we can deepen this friendship with you so that our lives may be more complete.

God of live, you call us to be light in this world of darkness and to welcome those around us as gifts of your grace. May your loving gaze, which rests on every single person, open our eyes to loving one another just as we are.

God who gather, you weave us together as one vine in your son Jesus. May your loving Spirit move in us, no matter where we are or who is with us. Grant that we can come together in joy to praise your name.

God of one vineyard, call us to act in your love in all we do and say.

Touched by your goodness, grant us the ability to be the reflection of that love in our homes, schools, work places, and on social media. Use us to pave the way for bridging rivalries and overcoming tensions in our world.

Spend some time in silent prayer. Allow God’s grace to fill you as you rest in Him.

Reference: https://www.oikoumene.org/sites/default/files/Document/ENG%202021%20Booklet.pdf

What 2020 Has Taught me

I always tell my kids when they go through a tough time or a set back in life to focus on the positive. Find the lesson you have learned and look at the good in a situation. Even in the depths of grief and despair you can find good. So, I decided maybe I should take my own advice, and dig deep to find the lessons from 2020. Here is my list, they are in no particular order and this is not exhaustive, as I am sure there are plenty more things I have learned, so I will continue to ponder. What about you? What would you add to this list for yourself?

  1. Don’t ever underestimate being prepared. I am typically someone who does plan ahead. I don’t like to wait to the last minute to pack, to plan meals, etc. But what I didn’t typically do was stock up on necessities, like toilet paper! 2020 taught me to be sure to have the bare necessities on hand at all times.
  2. Creating community is very important. We created all kinds of communities in various ways. One community that I am taking with me into 2021 and beyond is a small group of ladies we now call, “The Dream Team.” We were supposed to plan a Post Prom together in 2020, but instead we created friendships and bonded over the misery of the disappointments our 18 year olds experienced being seniors and starting college. 2020 gave me a great group of new friends!
  3. Family dinners are important. We always made time in our home for family dinners, as much as possible. The pandemic has given us so much more time to sit together and eat. Not only do we gather together, we also spend ample amount of time after dinner at the table chatting. Even though we are in the same home all day together, with work/school, dinner is still our time to catch up with our day.
  4. Church is more than Sunday morning worship. Everyone learned to accommodate remote worship. Church leaders have learned to be so creative! From live streaming worship, to drive-in worship and everything in between. But I think we learned that church has to be a verb. Neighbors taking care of neighbors, that is also church. Also, the amount of people that can be reached with online worship is far beyond anything we would ever see in a building on a Sunday morning, but if you are not creating community, worship isn’t going to be enough.
  5. Breaking tradition can be very refreshing. Nothing has been “typical” about 2020. But for our family, a high school graduation celebration became something that had to be reimagined. The Senior Parade (Seniors were in their cars driving a route around town) was such a fun event, and it would never have happened without the pandemic. I also had to scramble to recreate a long standing tradition of a youth conference that I help head up at work, and after almost 50 years, we pulled together a virtual event. These are just a couple things out of many traditions that were broken for our family this year, but we still made so many memories together!
  6. Time is relative and timing is everything. What day is it anyway? We all lost our sense of time this year! No one knows what day it is. and how in the world is it already the end of December? In a sense, time slowed down, calendars cleared and it felt like we had all the time in the world. The lesson I learned was make each moment count otherwise days slip by. We made a move this year, in the middle of summer right before sending our daughter to college, and it was by far a great decision. In the midst of it, I was going crazy, but once we sent our baby off to school, I was so happy to have a fresh start. The timing was perfect, and it gave me something to focus on other than a quiet, empty home.
  7. Creativity is exhausting. When the calendar cleared overnight, I had to reimagine my job duties. With that came a clean slate and a rethinking of what the future could look like for the ministry I’m charged with. All of that was actually excited and rejuvenating. However, it is taxing on the brain. It is easy to do the same thing, week after week, month after month. The calendar dictated my to do list. But once I was freed from that list, and could start reimagining, it became exhausting. I quickly learned to take some time in fresh air to clear my mind give myself some space to think and at times, daydream.
  8. Quiet time is more important than you think. If we spent time on screens in 2019, you could multiply that by 100 in 2020. With all of the time we spend in front of our computers, on zoom, our phones and mindless TV (Tiger King, need I say more?) quiet time became evermore important. I have always had a creative, crafty interest. Pandemic+becoming an empty nester=time to start hobbies again! I refinished furniture, started painting again, learned to make hot chocolate bombs and got a Cricut for Christmas. So, I plan on using some of my quiet time in 2021 to continue crafting!
  9. Tik Tok is a black hole. I have always tried to keep up on the latest social media apps and trends, it’s part of my job, but also a way to stay in communication with my own kids. So, I have spent too much time on Tik Tok, I admit, but it became a late night past time with my daughter as we laughed until we cried watching all the silly things out there. Memories were made together over Tik Tok, if you can imagine! (I might have even let her talk me into participating in a couple!)
  10. God’s got this, don’t stress about it. As we worked through what we thought was going to be a two week shut down, that ended up being two months that we thought would ease up in the summer and then all the sudden it was Thanksgiving, things at times became stressful. This year has taught me that I am not in control. Our lives changed weekly, and there was nothing I could do about it. But, God remain constant and steadfast. We still don’t know when the end of this will come, but knowing that with faith, we will get through this has brought some sense of peace.

These are things I have learned personally. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to stay employed, and our family has remained healthy. Not everyone has been as fortunate. So, please know we are praying for those of you who may have more heavy hearts and trials that you are facing.

Mission Work

Kathy Dickriede and Jason Hockran, two people I admire, join us this week on our podcast talking about their experiences in the mission field. They share their calls, passions and their personal stories of why mission work is important to them. Kathy talks about stepping out into the mission field is a risk-taking experience. In fact, she says, that we take risks right now, during this pandemic, by going out to eat or to the store. What would it look like to also take a risk to help others, even in this time of pandemic? They both reference their call to be in mission. Jason even refers to finding your identity in God through mission work. What a beautiful thought! If you have gone on a mission trip, or helped in your own community, you do walk away with a renewed sense of who you are and who God is. We also talk about the careful balance between helping without hurting, and the importance of preparing and debriefing, especially when taking young people out to do mission work.

Kathy references Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

I think it is important for us to ask ourselves, even in the midst of uncertain times, how is God calling me to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly? We may not be able to be physically together, but we can still serve others. Have you found ways to do this? It is easy to hunker down, in our homes, and forget that there are people, maybe on our own streets, that we can serve in some capacity. Advent is an excellent time to live this.

Be sure to think about how you will serve after post-pandemic. Below are some informational links you can look at to be inspired. After all, it is important that we each leave the world better than we find it.

Until next time friends, be well!

I reference a mission trip I went on with teens to West Virginia, that was Bramwell.

Links:

Full chapter in Micah: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Micah+6&version=NIV

East Ohio Missions: https://www.eocumc.com/missions/umvim.html

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission: https://www.umvim.org/

I referenced a mission trip to West Virginia, it was Bramwell, WV: https://www.bramwellwv.com/

Podcast: https://www.spreaker.com/user/practicallyhonest/practically-honest-mission-trips_3