Jessica Panitzke serves at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Jessica designed a program from mothers and children as a way for her congregation to reach out to the community.
Where do I start? That is a question that plagues all of us whether we are asking about daily chores or our biggest challenges in life. It rang over and over in my mind as I brainstormed ways for our church to reach out into our community. We had tried Vacation Bible School, Christmas for Kids, a Valentine’s Day event, fall festival, and still it seemed like no one came through our doors. I remember praying for guidance, for some way to meet people. I hoped to create an early childhood program to reach families. But the same question came back to my mind – Where do I start? We didn’t have lots of space, money or man power; all the things needed to launch preschools and eye-catching programs. And so I began to brainstorm and pray.
After doing some research and applying some principles I learned at Martin Luther College I began to write a curriculum for “Mornings with Mommy.” It would be a new take on the mommy and me class concept with an educational twist. I knew moms would be asking what it was all about so I shared this information about our program on our website and in brochures- “What is Mornings with Mommy? Mornings with Mommy isn’t preschool, and it isn’t childcare, it’s something different. Mornings with Mommy is a fun and easy way for you to enjoy activities with your children and meet other Moms. There will be age appropriate activities for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. And the best part is, we do all the planning, you just sign up! Moms can mingle with each other and enjoy activities with their children including: arts and crafts, sensory table, flannel stories and story time, music, educational toys, and a snack.”
A year after we arrived here at Shepherd of the Hills in Knoxville, Tennessee we launched our first Mornings with Mommy session in August 2009. We hoped to run two different hour long sessions each month. Our “Under the Sea” session was a huge hit! So much so that after running the program a few times, we had a waiting list and opened encore sessions. We had a place to start! We had people coming through our doors. And many of them had no church home or had recently moved to Knoxville. This was the opportunity that we were looking for! While it would take time, this was our chance to build relationships and share the gospel.
Since that first session we have been blessed with running the program for almost 4 years. We’ve run multiple sessions and had a TCW team help run it for a summer with multiple encore days. Over 500 different families have attended Mornings with Mommy! And about one fourth of them listed no home church. We’ve seen an increase in families visiting our congregation from Mornings with Mommy. Children have been baptized and families have joined our church. Our congregation became excited about the opportunities we had to share the Gospel. They got involved—I can’t imagine all of this happening without all their help! We are even moving ahead with a building project so that we can launch a preschool in January of 2014.
I always hoped to share this program with other churches. So I began putting the curriculum together in a very user friendly way for congregations. There are about 15 WELS congregations running the program now in South Carolina, California, Florida, Minnesota, South Dakota, Georgia, and Colorado. If you are interested in information please find contact information at http://www.knoxvilleshepherd.com/for an informational packet. I look forward to all the ways our Lord is using this program to share his gospel. And for all this I praise the Lord!
Tags: child / Christian / Knoxville / Lutheran / missions / mom / mother / Panitzke / Preschool / Shepherd of the Hills / tennessee / TN / WELS