Family Ministries at Redeemer

March 2010
by Tracy Thornton

The purpose and vision of Redeemer is to ignite a movement of the gospel that changes the city of New York spiritually, socially, and culturally. As the Children’s Ministry Director, this vision is not only personally inspiring, but has guided our ministry in shaping a philosophy: “The Gospel. A City. For Generations.”

Three years ago the Redeemer vision inspired me to leave a ministry in North Carolina, and move to New York to invest in families and children. I arrived shortly after the goals from the last vision campaign were established, my favorite being the goal to encourage, equip, and assist families to flourish in the city. 
 
In North Carolina I found myself constantly reminding other church staff members about the importance of remembering the single population in our congregation. In New York, the reverse is true. Not only is the city often unfriendly to families, but the question of how to best incorporate children into the church body has brought biases into churches as well. In the past ten years New York has gone through a significant demographic change, and Redeemer is a reflection of that change. I have noticed many churches wrestle with how to best incorporate children into the community. There are no easy answers, but I believe tackling these kinds of issues is extremely important. 
 
Housing and schooling are two other very big issues for families striving to live out the Redeemer vision. Not only is the cost of living incredibly high, but the limited amount of space is a sacrifice for children who need safe areas to run and play. I have had countless conversations with mothers who struggle to be good neighbors, while living in constant fear that one of their children may make a noise that offends other tenants in the building. 
 
The challenge of finding a school—whether it is public or private—and being accepted, is equally daunting. Watching families go through the application process is unlike anything I have ever seen. Many people, especially those living outside the New York area, are in disbelief when I share that I am often asked to write character reference letters for preschoolers. The pressure of time, money, and energy it takes just to get a child accepted into a preschool is extremely stressful and overwhelming.  
 
At this stage I can appreciate how the vision of staying in the city could begin to feel too costly, but I am continually amazed by the families who do not get discouraged. The vision requires many sacrifices, and it is a wonderful privilege to work alongside families who are open and willing to the challenges that come with those sacrifices. I am thoroughly impressed and inspired by mothers who muscle their strollers up and down subway stairs, fathers who work long hours and balance the demands of family and community, and children who share very small rooms with their siblings. Despite these challenges, our ministry has seen a remarkable growth in numbers of elementary age children. Given the challenges of real estate and education in New York, this trend says a great deal about the commitment of our families to remain in the city. Words cannot express my gratitude to our families for this level of dedication.
 
As the number of families has increased, so has the demand for more volunteers. The opportunity to teach the Gospel to our growing community of children is incredibly exciting, but it also presents a large challenge in finding volunteers who can help manage this level of growth. One of the most staggering statistics I have discovered is the 73% growth in average weekly Sunday school attendance since 2005. In the first six months of my position I quickly realized that with 300 to 400 volunteers serving in our ministry there was no way I could devote the kind of time and attention each one deserved. 
 
As a result I hired a Volunteer Coordinator, Amy Alexander, to focus all of her energy on recruiting and training volunteers. She is doing an amazing job, and we have received countless comments from parents who are so thankful for the quality of volunteer who serve our children each week. I am most struck by their love for God and our families, and their commitment to showing up on Sunday and praying for the children in their classes during the week. 
 
Several weeks ago I opened a storage cabinet at one of our service locations and came across little boxes with presents for one of our elementary classes. Two of our volunteer teachers had done this on their own, without any assistance from the staff. This is but one example. There are numerous stories of people loving our children and families well beyond their Sunday responsibilities. Again, words cannot express my gratitude to our amazing volunteers.
 
I cannot begin to imagine the kind of impact our children will have on this city in future generations. The children we are nurturing now will be raised with a love for the city because it is their home. They will embrace the unique issues and experiences of New York because they will already have had exposure to them. They will be years ahead of us in how to love and care for the people of this city because they have seen it modeled by their community all of their lives. I am honored to witness all of these things, and my steadfast prayer is for this generation to grow in their knowledge of Christ and change the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.


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