By Lindsay Peyton
Susie Morales was a longtime volunteer at Bear Creek UMC, until she was promoted to Director of Children’s Ministry in 2018. “At that point, I had been a volunteer for about 20 years,” she said. “Now I found myself in a new role – and I needed support and networking.”
Then, she discovered the Christian Educators Fellowship (CEF), a group on a mission to provide support, fellowship and ideas to those in the field. Morales said that CEF members work in various types of roles – in Christian education for all ages.
That encompassing mission appealed to her, since she works with children, as well as their parents and grandparents. “We do see the preschool as a ministry of the church,” she said. “It’s one vision.”
After attending her first CEF meeting, Morales was hooked. “I just showed up,” she said. “I was thrilled that there was something out there of that nature. I could hear what others were doing, learn and get ideas on ways to serve.”
CEF meetings include presentations by guest speakers, followed by time for fellowship and networking. “There was a common language,” Morales said. “It was nice to know that I’m not the only one out there in those trenches.”
The group was welcoming, she added. “I found it to be a safe space to share – and to get feedback,” she said. “It’s uplifting.”
When Morales faces a challenge, she is confident in finding someone else in the group who has shared her experience. “Why I continue to participate is the support,” she said. “I can call on them. We’re all serving; we’re just in different spaces. We can collaborate.”
Morales often finds herself recommending the group to others working in Christian education and faith formation. “Our plates are so full,” she said. “Why reinvent the wheel? Why not replicate what others have successfully tried – and share what has worked for you so others can be successful too?”
The next CEF meeting is scheduled for noon on Wednesday, April 19 at St. Paul’s UMC in Houston, 5501 Main St. Stephanie Konvicka, Executive Director of Hesed House in Wharton will serve as the keynote, speaking about the importance of “whole person wellness.”
A virtual meeting is planned for noon on May 3 with speaker Brittany Sky from GenOn Ministries, who will share resources for building Christ-centered intergenerational communities.
Rev. Katy Sabayrac, Family Ministry Pastor at Westbury UMC, serves as President of CEF. She explained that the group used to be part of a national nonprofit. When the organization disbanded in 2019, the Texas chapter became its own separate organization – and remained focused primarily on the Texas Conference.
Continuing to meet was never a question, Sabayrac said. “We’re still doing this work to equip folks who are doing the work in the local church,” she added.
In addition to hosting monthly meetings – either virtual or at St. Paul’s in Houston – the CEF recognizes congregations committed to effective ministries with its Five Stars of Excellence in Christian Education awards. The group also honors leaders in Christian Education in the Conference with the Dick Murray Award.
In addition, the CEF offers scholarships to a two-week certification program offered at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. The intensive session covers a wide range of topics, from Methodist theology to building a budget.
Over the years, Sabayrac explained that Christian education has seen some major change. For instance, more lay people and volunteers are in charge of the work.
Also, pastors who may have focused on one age group are now assuming wider ministries.
That’s a change Sabayrac experienced firsthand.
In her first post, she was one of four staff members in the children’s ministry. She was able to focus on a specific age – from 3rd to 5th grade.
Now, she works with children, youth and their families. Being a member of CEF helped her make that transition. “When I started in that role, I really needed to connect with others in a similar role,” she said.
More and more churches have been consolidating, Sabayrac said. And that makes the CEF seem more valuable than ever. “It’s just about making connections with people doing the same job – and having folks you know you can call with a question,” Sabayrac said.
She said that the CEF is a testament to the importance of the United Methodist connectional system. Membership in the group is $35 a year and open to anyone working in Christian education – both clergy and lay people – including music ministry, evangelism, faith formation, older adults and children’s ministry. To become a member and learn more, visit www.tccef.org.