Three spots have been filled, with seven more remaining, to serve as regional coordinators for youth and children’s ministries in the Great Plains Conference.
The Rev. Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson, director of outreach at Wichita Calvary UMC, will serve as the South Central Regional kids coordinator. Matt Dumler, youth director at Hays First UMC, and Ed Ostlund, youth and community engagement minister at Waverly First UMC, will be youth coordinators in the Southwest and Northeast regions.
“They’re really going to help trailblaze and pave the way and find direction for the future,” the Rev. Melissa Collier Gepford, intergenerational discipleship coordinator for the conference, said. “I’m just excited for them to help infuse this kind of collaborative and network-based model of ministry.”
For Barlow-Thompson, her appointment to Wichita Calvary was the first time she was not a children’s and/or youth director in her church in a decade of ministry. At Calvary, she is in charge of social justice, neighboring missions and the outward focus of the church.
She appreciates the connections that are strengthened with the coordinator program.
“We are not alone in the work we do, and we don’t have to work to reinvent the wheel by ourselves,” she said. “We can rely on the gifts and graces and assets of others to build the kingdom of God in our own settings and across the globe.”
Barlow-Thompson, co-founder of the Neighboring Movement with her husband, the Rev. Adam Barlow-Thompson, said the coordinators can provide support, resourcing and relationships for kids and youth workers who might not be as familiar with the United Methodist connection.
“Man, ministry can be isolating, especially if you’re trying to do it on a part-time situation with a small budget,” said Barlow-Thompson, mother of a third-grade son. “You’re out on your own trying to figure these things out. Wouldn’t it be a gift to have the support of colleagues who can come along and say, ‘Hey, I know how to start a children’s choir’ or ‘Listen, I’ve taken kids to camp and here are the best principles I know.’”
Dumler will mark his fourth year at Hays First this summer, after working for more than a dozen years as a teacher, including as a physical education teacher and coach at Holy Family Elementary in Hays and track and cross-country coach at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School in Hays.
He has already worked with other churches in Hays to develop a network of youth and children’s leaders that has led to connectional events.
“We’re letting the kids see Christ in each other, even if they don’t see each other in church and sharing that commonality whether they’re in school or out and about,” he said.
The Lyons, Kansas, native, who has 12-, 9- and 5-year-old children with his wife, wants to geographically expand that kind of philosophy.
“I really liked the idea of taking that concept and applying it to the conference, because oftentimes guys out in western Kansas feel like they’re the middle of nowhere and don’t feel like they have any connections and they’re out on their own,” he said. “We’re much better together than we are individually.”
Ostlund has been with Waverly First for two years this summer. After working 18 years as a chef in Omaha, he said, his wife wanted him to have a job where he was home on nights and weekends.
“I used it as proof positive of the existence of the Holy Spirit, because if I had tried to do what I was doing when I was 22, I wouldn’t be good at it,” Ostlund said of his current position.
He said he thinks there’s a lack of awareness in the conference about what assistance and resources are available for kids and youth workers.
“I think Melissa does a great job providing resources and opportunities to connect, but part of the problem is that if you don’t know they’re there, you don’t know they exist,” he said.
As a whole, he said, interest in theological education and Biblical literacy falls off after preteens leave the fifth and sixth grades, and he wants to strengthen youth workers, so the interest continues.
“We can share our mistakes,” he said, “so other people don’t make them.”
Four more kids’ worker workers are needed in the Northwest (Great West and Gateway districts), Northeast (Elkhorn Valley, Prairie Rivers, Blue River and Missouri River districts), Southwest (Hays and Dodge City districts) and Southeast (Flint Hills, Five Rivers, Parsons, Kansas City and Topeka districts) regions. Click this link to apply.
Click here to nominate someone for the open positions.
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