Laity Spotlight - Connie Offer, Children and Youth Formation Ministry Team Leader

Connie Offer wearing pink blouse with shoulder length hair     When Connie Offer agreed to  head  the Children's and Youth Formation Ministry, she (or anyone else for that matter) had no idea that less than a year later, Covid 19 would force the closing of houses of worship and require church leaders to totally reinvent the way they ministered to their congregations. With her team of four, that's exactly what Connie Offer did.  Although she is stepping down from her leadership role, Connie looks forward to continuing to serve at PUMC, a church that, for the Offers, began as a compromise.

     Connie moved from Ohio to New Jersey after graduate school for a career opportunity. She joined First Baptist of Lincoln Gardens and involved herself in children's outreach there.  When time allowed, "I volunteered with their Ministry for Foster Children and Families," she explained.  Outside of church, she became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.  (The CASA program helps monitor abused and neglected children in out-of-home placements.) In between work, church, and volunteering, Connie met her husband Stephen. After marrying, they began looking for a church to join that could serve as a compromise between her Baptist Church and his Church of England.  " We were looking for a community that was diverse and welcoming and had a strong children's program," she said.  They found all that at PUMC. Two years later they welcomed daughter Victoria to the family. 

      When Pastor Skitch invited Connie to chair Children's Ministry, she had an active four-year old, and a busy career in healthcare management.  "After much conversation with [my family] and prayerful consideration, I accepted," she said.

     Four programs fall under the umbrella of the Children’s and Youth Formation Ministry Team: Sunday School, Confirmation, Youth Group, and Vacation Bible School.  That is a lot to say yes to, but Connie is drawn to working with kids, and the Ministry’s mission sets a goal important to her. “The Ministry was established to teach young people about God and to foster in them a growing relationship with God,” she said, adding "It also provides an atmosphere of community that creates in our children and youth joy built around Christ and church." 

      To help these programs flourish, Connie and her team work closely with the families, teachers, and mentors of PUMC children and youth "by teaching, training, encouraging, and supporting" them in their work.  When Covid struck, having this family of volunteers proved invaluable to the team, whom Connie describes  as collaborative and inclusive. "We invite feedback from our kids and parents, which helps us design (or redesign as the pandemic required) goal setting and programming to reach those goals," she said. The camaraderie of team members and volunteers helped the Ministry pivot during quarantine and continue to meet the goals of the team.

      One of the best-loved children's events put on by Children's Ministry is the annual Easter Egg Hunt.  Brightly-colored eggs uncovered with shouts of "I found one!," the Easter Bunny hopping around sharing the children's joy, and music create  a joyous experience. 

When quarantine made it impossible to hold a traditional Easter Egg Hunt, Connie and her team went to work answering the question, "How do we do this virtually?" Marie Griffiths and Jenni Collins, two members of the Ministry team, took the lead on the project. 

     With the rest of the team and a host of volunteers, 50 children had a fabulous Easter Egg Hunt. Each child received a basket full of crafts and activities that, through Zoom, they were able to do together. They had a sing along and the Easter Bunny even made an appearance. 

     As Covid restrictions eased and the weather mellowed,  Connie and her team devised ways for children and youth to meet in person (masked and distanced, of course). They organized a family event, a downtown scavenger hunt. When possible, Sunday School events were held at a local park.  This summer PUMC, Kingston UMC, and Trinity Episcopal held outdoor Vacation Bible School. "Providing kids with experiences to connect with each other and to their faith,  and to know that the church is behind [those efforts] is very important," said Connie.

     Now near the end of her term, she reflected on her time leading the Ministry Team.  Yes, there were a lot of hours spent planning and preparing then re-planning and implementing, but " because the work is so meaningful to me and so helpful to others to grow spiritually, it's worth the time," she said.  "It makes me feel really good."  Although Connie is stepping down as team leader, she will remain on the Ministry Team.  She will also continue serving on the Reopening Committee.

     Connie is so thankful to have led such a dedicated team and recognizes them here: Marie Griffiths, Jenni Collins, Steve Wong, Mae Potts, and Janis Davis. A special thanks to Children’s Ministry Director Evangeline Burgers and Pastor Skitch Matson. 

 

by Kate Lasko