“Mr. Paskins is so funny,” Mike, our sixth grader, piped up from the back seat of the van on the way home from Wooddale Church. “He told us the coolest story today about-”
“God, thank you for Sunday school teachers like Jerry Paskins!” I thought.
Wooddale. The world where, besides home, I poured out my heart. Duane and I wanted Mike and Jeff to grow up loving God. Our family attended every Sunday. We invited families from Wooddale to our home.
And we got involved in children’s ministry.
(Wooddale Church directory picture)
Wooddale had just moved to Eden Prairie. Plans called for the church to be built in stages. They had only finished Phase I. That meant space in the growing church would be tight. The ‘Gathering Place,’ an enormous brick walled room, would host Sunday morning services and be divided at other times for classes. Nursery and children’s classrooms were on the lower level.
“We don’t have enough room for elementary age children in our services right now,” Ivy Beckwith, children’s pastor, shared at a leader’s meeting. “Pastor Anderson suggests we offer a church program for kids in grades 1 through 6 in another space.”
As a child, attending children’s church meant singing hymns from hymn books as we sat on adult size folding chairs lined up in rows. Then a flannel graph Bible story. I couldn’t imagine my boys liking that kind of an hour.
“I have a new idea for a children’s worship program,” I mused to Duane, later that night. With a Christian Education major, I was comfortable dreaming about what we could offer kids. They wouldn’t passively sit on chairs; they would create the service themselves through music, art and activities. The book, “Worship is a Verb,” by Dr. Robert Webber, a Wheaton professor, was my inspiration.
The challenge intrigued me. (“Fools Rush In.”) We would have a large number of kids; 150 – 200. The age range, from first to sixth grade, meant kids were at different developmental levels. And, our space was limited: we were allotted an expansive, but single, room, Apple. Wooddale named each room after a tree.
The biggest hurdle would be finding adults willing to serve in something experimental. I could count on Duane. The music pastor’s wife, June Bullock, whose kids were friends of our kids, said she would help me. Jim and Heidi Satterberg signed up. Their daughter was in Jeff’s class. Pam Sampson, an artist, wanted to help with room design. Pat Dourte, a school teacher, was eager. I knew we needed more help but didn’t know who to ask.
I invited our team to dinner at our house to figure out what we were going to do. I had a few ideas, but this would be a group effort. Pastor Ivy threw her support into the project.
The Sunday before the dinner, a trim gentleman in a suit approached me in the hallway at church.
“Hi, Jill, I’m Jerry Paskins, ” he offered his hand and shook mine firmly. “I hear you’re starting a program for kids on Sunday morning.
“Oh, you’re Inez’s husband,” I smiled. Inez was Jeffrey’s sweet preschool Sunday school teacher a few years ago.
“I’d like to help with that kids’ church program,” Jerry continued.
“Terrific!” I was thrilled, and surprised. People rarely volunteer for children’s ministry. “I’m not exactly sure what you’re volunteering for, but we would love to have your help. We’re having dinner this Thursday night at my house to pray and plan our program.”
“Great,” Jerry answered. “I’m in town this week, so I’ll be there.”
At dinner we brainstormed and laid out plans for the first weeks of what we called ‘Youth Worship.’ We decided to start with a unit on how Israel worshiped God in the Old Testament. Pam Sampson’s husband worked in hospital supply so she knew where to get old sheets to hang on all the walls in the Apple Room. That would transform it into the Tabernacle.
“I’ll make the altar of burnt offerings for the center of the room out of cardboard,” I volunteered.
“Are we going to be sacrificing animals?” June joked. “I guess they should be stuffed animals.”
We continued to meet together each month over dinner to refine our ideas. We did six weeks on “The Living Word,” a history of how we got our Bible. in another session we experienced the truths of Jesus in ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ The kids had to enter the Apple room through The Wardrobe.
Heidi designed a mural for the kids to paint with markers.
We aimed to relate God to kids in ways they would understand. When we studied the history of the church, June led our massive group of kids on a tour of our church building, pointing out the meaning of each part of the architecture of our building. I wish I had a video of that.
And Jerry kept showing up each Sunday. The kids loved him. At our planning dinners, Jerry kept us laughing with his stories about the insurance industry.
“You know,” he leaned over his dinner plate and whispered to us, “people put a few slices of bacon in a frying pan on the stove, turn the heat on to high, and go out for a half hour walk. They can get a whole new kitchen out of that.”
On a first impression, I wouldn’t place Jerry in children’s ministry. He looked formal, probably because he was slight of hair and dressed in suit and tie. But each Sunday the kids gravitated to his energetic enthusiasm.
“Feel this muscle,” he’d tell the group gathered around him. He pointed to his arm, cloaked in the fine wool jacket. “Can you feel that? I love to run and work out.”
“Wow!” a kid would say, poking the fabric, ” Your arm muscle is like a piece of steel!”
Jerry could have said he was too busy for ‘Youth Worship.’ He traveled around the country most weeks, as an executive with an insurance company.
“I’ll always be here on Sunday,” he informed me. He was.
Over the years I’ve served in several churches, and done a lot of recruiting; asking people to serve. I’ve often heard, “I’m too busy with work to serve.”
When Wooddale built its Worship Center, and had enough room for people of all ages in the services, Youth Worship ended. Jerry went back to teaching Sunday School. Mike was in his class.
I knew Mike loved being there from the stories we heard in the car on the way home from church. Jerry shared his life and his love for Jesus with those kids.
We moved to Florida in 1995.
I was holding a baby in the nursery for our church’s MOPS program on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. That was the day Jerry Paskins was conducting business on the 94th floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center.
“We have happy memories of the godly.” Proverbs 10:7