“What’s Your Why?” from Penny Johnson
My name is Penny Johnson, and I am the Director of Christian Education and the Administration Manager. An odd combination of titles, but as I share my story, you will begin to understand how it happened. “What’s my why?”, and why I’m here is very simple: I believe in the teachings of Jesus, and I want to share those teachings with God’s littlest children.
My baptism is one of my earliest church memories. I was eight years old, and in preparation for baptism I had to attend classes; to learn various Bible and verses and the importance of the communion elements. I was baptized by immersion. My extended family came to witness my baptism. I changed into a gown and the curtains that were normally closed in front of the church opened to this pool of water. I professed my faith in front of the congregation and was baptized. There was no dove that emerged, but it was very ceremonial and created within me a sense of awe and sacredness.
My family later joined a Presbyterian church, my home church. I went through confirmation, was president of youth group and participated in all aspects of church life. Andy and I were married there. In college, I sought out a church near campus to attend. Moving to California and starting a job, I still attended services in various places around Southern California. Attending worship was always where I felt a connection to my roots being so far from home.
When we moved to Hinsdale, it was the 9:00 a.m. family service that drew us to this church. Children participated in worship, and it was an informal service for our boys to ask questions during worship and participate in the liturgy. I became a member of the Children’s Committee and taught Sunday School.
It had always been on my bucket list to go back for my MBA and once our youngest started school, I applied for the evening program at the University of Chicago. After graduation, I began working with a colleague on starting our own business. This was about the time that the church was looking to hire someone part-time in Children’s Ministry. I was approached about leading the implementation of the Rotation Model Sunday School program. I agreed for an interim period to be part-time since my family was already attending weekly. When the minister left, I felt compelled to fill the hole in Christian Education. I was becoming more invested in the development of Sunday morning curriculum. Also, during this time, a member was advocating for the LOGOS program. LOGOS is a children’s program that has 4 elements: fellowship, Bible study, worship, and a meal, over 2 ½ hours on a weekday evening. We had a fun weekly theme, like crazy hair day, which tied all these parts together. The startup of the program took months and required more of my time than on a part-time basis along with other children’s programs. I made the decision to come on staff full-time after much reflection and discernment about my role and much to the disappointment from my extended family: “Why did you go back for your MBA if you were going to work at the church?” Andy was very supportive, but my parents and the boys, who were old enough to observe my graduate studies, they challenged me. I was at a crossroads. I was becoming more vested in the programming I was developing and was beginning to see the fruits of that commitment. And the boys were involved with all my programming. It was always important to Andy and me that they be actively and socially engaged in their faith. The church is and was a second home to them.
The LOGOS program grew to over 50 children on a Wednesday evening along with adult volunteers, and a baby logos. VBS became my trademark which grew every year as our largest children’s community outreach before the pandemic. Christmas Pageant became an easy entry for new families to participate without much of a commitment. We welcomed our children into the worship space, not just Sunday School. Making worship on Sunday morning be intentional for them as well as God’s oldest child. The story Bibles in the pews, the welcome bags, the rocking chair in the Narthex, and now the blessing we say as the children leave this space during worship, are all examples of creating a second home for our children within this faith community. It is a privilege to work with children. They help me grow in my faith as a teacher and student through their questions and passion for not just the Bible stories but social justice issues.
Well, I’m not going to dwell on the Admin part of my job, except to say I had talents that were needed. There is a saying some attribute to Aristotle, where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation. That is my why. I hope you will take the time to think about your why.