Dynamic Duo: Husband and Wife Team Model Loyal Service
Small membership churches like First UMC Edom depend on the willingness and flexibility of longtime volunteers like Keith and Karen Mills.
When it comes to giving back, everyone wins. When giving back as a twosome, the blessings are doubled on both sides.
Studies even indicate that the interaction and satisfaction-- that comes from supporting a passion or personal belief—often has positive health benefits, in that it impacts happiness. As pastors throughout the conference will testify, valuable volunteers are the lifeblood of a church – and particularly critical for the vibrancy of small congregations.”
Dr. Jesse Brannen, Director of Congregational Excellence, who passionately studies the qualities of strong churches, affirms the volunteer spirit of Keith and Karen Mills who have attended Edom UMC since 1989. They have been active members, serving on virtually every committee over the years – all while modeling servant leadership on the job as well.
Notes Jesse, “I was their pastor for four years, and would say the Mills excel at being consistent. Over the 20 years I have known them, they have maintained a helpful attitude of support of the church, in the face of ups and downs in their families and careers. When it came to keeping the rose garden, serving on the SPRC committee, helping with youth activities, or any fundraising activity or administrative meeting, they were all in.”
Looking back, Karen shares that she and Keith “have taught Sunday school at several levels, and been involved in Bible studies and various projects through the years.” Adds Keith, “Most importantly, we've been blessed by our relationships with church members, and clergy and their families.”
Keith, who is a horticulturist who supervised the infamous Tyler Rose Garden for over 20 years, has most recently worked at the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler. Karen recently celebrated her 20th anniversary working for a medical firm in Tyler that offers her opportunities to live out her faith on the job.
Shares Karen, “The Bible says that the meek shall inherit the earth, but in our society, it's seldom the meek who get hired and promoted, but rather those who succeed at selling themselves. In the current cultural climate, public prayer and the display of the Ten Commandments is said to be so offensive to some that they feel compelled to take legal action, so how does a person of faith safely and effectively integrate that into the work place? I think the Methodist acolytes give us the answer at the end of every Sunday service, by carrying the flame out of the church, representing us taking the light of God out into the world.”
She opts to share Christ through her natural lifestyle. “It's not uncommon for coworkers to ask how your weekend was, so it's easy to mention church attendance with your answer, which quickly clues people to your life as a Christian, and can then open the door to greater possibilities as well as responsibilities. Keith and I don't hesitate to tell a troubled coworker that we'll pray for them, though Keith and I don't publicly pray in the workplace, unless asked to by someone coming to us for comfort. And we don't witness unless asked and we don't force our faith or beliefs on others.
The Mills believe that they are taking the light of God into the workplace by trying to demonstrate respect, integrity, and approachability. “If you can treat everyone with respect and take responsibility for your actions while supporting others in their achievements,” she says, “it can allow coworkers to see what God wants them to see in you. Finally, I think having an open-door policy might be the most important thing. We try to be sensitive to the needs of others, above ourselves.”
Their spirit of servant leadership is noticed by others. Adds Karen, “Some of the men who Keith supervises have told me that he is the only supervisor they've ever had who would get down in the dirt and work right alongside of them and how much they admired that. Keith is very approachable, and will never give a short answer when a longer one will do!”
Longtime loyal volunteers in the church need periods of inactivity on occasion. In 2010, Keith lost both his parents. Since he had been their power of attorney prior to their passing, and executor of the estates, he simply notified the nomination committee in time to fill their vacancies as needed.
Volunteering comes in many forms. When pondering a leadership position, consider pursuing:
- Something you are good at
- Something you want to learn (i.e. event planning skills)
- Something that will make your community better
- Something that will allow you to meet people outside of your typical circle
- Something requiring obedience to God outside of your comfort level
Adds Karen, “I think our service over the years has followed our interests. When our daughter was young, I was involved in children and youth activities. As she got older, I was involved in young adult activities. During those years, Keith taught the young adult Sunday school class, and as we got older, the name of the class changed to the ‘young at heart’ class!”
The Mills admit that finding the time is not always easy and that the needs of their family have always come first. “We just became first time grandparents in 2015,” she shares, “so I cut back my committee involvement but I still volunteer to count the collection on Sundays and attend Bible study. As is true of any small church, if you're there, you are involved!”
Reflects Karen, “I can't say that I've got a favorite ministry moment, because I've learned over time, the moments that I think are the most insignificant, might have a huge impact on someone else, and the moment I feel like I've said something deeply profound might be met with blank stares or eye rolls. My ministry efforts are probably best judged by others.”
Rev. Jason Huffman describes the Mills as quiet leaders who are always present and available. Notes Jason, “Keith is our finance chair and leads with a soft spirit. He is very committed to his duties and is always looking to work with others to make the church the best it can be. Karen has served in a number of capacities here at the church. She is always involved in the informal workings of the church helping any way she can. Karen also runs our Safe Sanctuary background checks to keep us in compliance with the conference.”
He also observes that, “In a church full of retirees and folks with a lot of discretionary time, Keith and Karen both work full time jobs -- but they are as committed as anybody in the church.”
As a “dynamic duo,” this twosome has a long track record of leading by example. Shares Jason, “In the short time I've known them, the Mills’ did one thing that helped me define servant leader. Being a small church with a modest budget, we do a special offering called the ‘noisy bucket’ every month to go to a designated cause. We had elected to take the noisy bucket to buy chickens for the food pantry to give local families for Thanksgiving. A few days before we were to take up the donation, a tornado hit in Lindale, TX, right up the road from us. Since Keith was finance chair, I approached him about designating it for the storm victims. Keith and Karen looked at each other and said, ‘We'll take care of the chickens for the food pantry so we can use the Noisy Bucket for the storm victims.’"