Ever since my enthusiastic second-grade teacher inspired me by talking about Jesus as her lifelong companion, I have yearned for and actively sought a relationship with God. Because of her passionate teaching, a vast hunger for the Other opened up in me. This quest has never ended. (Joyce Rupp, Prayer, 9).
Teachers, mentors, and friends who have walked the path before us and who are willing to walk alongside us, are a vital part of all our lives. They have a powerful impact on who we become, as they often embody Christ's love, acceptance and genuine welcome.
Frequently I have sat in churches that are desperate to find individuals willing to take on such roles. I hear people say, "but I can't teach, I'm not a teacher. I wouldn't know what to do." When I read Rupp's words I was instantly taken back to memories of such individuals in my own life and I was struck by the fact that the impact these individuals had on my life had very little to do with teaching, and a whole lot to do with love.They were so much more than warm bodies.
I remember Ms. Agatha Kehler and Ms. Mary Krueger. They taught me Sunday school very early on. So early that I have no concrete memories of what we did, only of their smiling faces and their open arms. They were pure love.
I remember Lorraine Hamm who offered the same kind of welcome and interest in my life, as well as powerful correction. I adored her and the times we spent gathered together sitting on our little rugs for story time, and my little heart was struck when she reminded me that it was unkind to giggle when someone else couldn't read as well as I could. She demonstrated for me both compassion and justice.
I remember Helen Hamm who led the actions during singing time. Never embarrassed, never hesitant no matter how silly the song. She showed me energy and whole bodied participation in worship and community.
I remember Delores Enns and her cut out felt snowmen. Each week we added another piece to the snowman when we arrived in class. I'm not sure why this touched me so much, but it struck a chord and over a decade later I did the same thing for my class! She showed me creativity and a willingness to give of her time and energy for others. A gift I received many times from her well into adulthood.
I remember Esther Braun always excited about the lesson and enthusiastic in her greetings. One Sunday she put together a traditional Seder meal for us, all laid out and ready after singing time. And then we got locked out of our class! Eventually we did get back in and had a fabulous time exploring the foods and the story together. Esther gifted us all with her genuine love for us and for the biblical story, as well as her flexibility when things didn't go as planned.
I remember Gloria Voth whose kind eyes made her so approachable that I was able to get up the courage to ask if I could be a Venture clubs leader. Now I know that we're always desperate for leaders, but at the time, she responded to me, not with relief that someone was just willing to do the job, but with genuine gratitude that I was willing to offer my gifts. She also immediately took me under her wing and began to mentor me. A gift that eventually led to my baptism.
I could not possibly name all of the strong and loving people that I encountered during my childhood and early adulthood who were mentors, models, and friends. And while some of them were also amazing teachers, I was impacted far more by who they were, than by what they did. While I know that each one of them likely carried their own brokenness, they nevertheless embodied the love of Christ for me. And perhaps that embodiment was made all the more powerful because they didn't wait until they were perfect teachers. They simply offered themselves as they were, and accepted me for who I was, a beloved child of God.