The Good Shepherd's Children, Youth, and Family Coordinator, Dana Turner, served on a panel this past Friday
evening at the New York Synod Assembly. The forum was titled, “Spark: Igniting Faith Conversations in
Community” and was organized by Charlie Germain, the Chair of the Children, Youth, and Family Ministry of
the New York Synod. The panel was made up of Chris Mietlowski and Danielle Miller who are each Pastors
from different churches in New York City, as well as Deacon Carlos Lopez and Dana, the Children, Youth, and
Family Ministries Coordinator of the Good Shepherd.
The purpose of the discussion was to question the relevance of the church in our communities and examine and
share the focus of our respective congregations. It was an expansive discussion that covered everything from
being messengers of God's love for those without a religious affiliation, to re-defining what religion means. We
shared stories of the change we have seen in our congregations, and Pastor Miller made a distinction between the
idea of change and transformation. Change, she stated, is simply doing something different, which usually
involves recycling old ideas. Transformation, however, is about the kind of shift that can occur when guided by
the holy spirit. As leaders, we can encourage transformation by creating a space for people to meet Jesus, rather
than forcing doctrine upon them. This entails meeting people where they are, which often means going outside
of the church.
Upon being asked about how I saw God impact my own life and the lives of others, the only place I could go
was stories about the children and youth of the Good Shepherd. I spoke about my role as a guide who creates
space for questions to be asked, and entourages students to work with one another and myself to develop
answers, which often leads to asking deeper questions. I embrace a lot of questioning in my own faith, and I
described a couple of stories which have reminded me of the presence of the spirit in our congregation and
community at large. I shared this story at the forum:
One Sunday I was having difficulty coming up with a lesson for Sunday School that would communicate the full
expanse of the week's gospel. I eventually though of an idea that would work and instead of pushing and pulling
for something that came only from me, I decided to allow room for the spirit to come into play. When we came
into the classroom on Sunday morning, Chloe, one of our students who is five years old, had prepared a lesson
that she wanted to do with the kids. She brought in paper and scissors and markers and a head full of inspiration.
She led us all in making prayer booklets. It was one of those moments where I saw the spirit face to face. Not
only did she come up with an amazing activity without me even asking, but she created the space to develop
herself as a leader and was supported by the other classmates. It was a definite beginning to a cultural shift in our
A couple of buzz words of the panel discussion included authenticity and hunger. We discussed the kind of
yearning that people have to be loved, and to be recognized as children of God. Often times this is not a desire
that is expressed in these exact words, but we all have the hunger to be understood, accepted, and loved just as
we are. Pastor Miller brought up something that she does in relation to this. Each time she looks in the mirror,
she says she is usually so focused on what she did wrong that day and what she could've done better. However,
in her image she reminds herself of her beauty in being a child of God. She tells herself, “I am beautiful, I
matter, and I am a child of God.” In God's image we are all created just the way we are supposed to be. We are
all not only important to this community, but each of us is needed in this community. I witness the joy we all feel
for each others presence at Sunday worship at the Good Shepherd in the sharing of the peace as we all crowd the
middle aisle, eager to shake each and every persons hand. The spirit you bring to church, and the spirit you bring
to your community is indispensable to the mission of Jesus.
Recently in GIFT, we have been discussing the mission of our collective. I asked them, what is our purpose for
coming together? Yesterday we went to visit a child who is experiencing pain in her legs that is keeping her bedridden.
We said a prayer for her, brought her flowers and made her a card. We also sang a song while visiting.
We recognize that this gesture may not heal her, but perhaps it could make her feel a little closer to God through
us showing love and care. We can't underestimate the power of kindness. After all, this is all that Jesus showed in
his miracles, a limitless kindness that was so deeply rooted in the love of God that it created healing. It is this
outreach that brings us closer to Jesus mission, and hence helps to define our own. We have a gift of spirit and
joy, and as I told the kids yesterday, in working through the word of Jesus we have a responsibility to share our
gift with our congregation and larger community.
This weekend's discussion was a great reminder of why we do what we do. I was honored to sit on a panel with
these three professionals, and share in the enthusiasm and honesty that are needed to live out the love that God
gifts us with. At the end of worship, we are sent, not done. All of us, having experienced the love and joy that
comes through being in a community of faith, have the tools and gifts to authentically share this peace with one
another, each and every day.
Children, Youth, and Family Ministry Coordinator