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By Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Melissa Brooks, Susan Brown,  Jeannie Dortch and Len Morrow.

“When someone asks me why I am a Christian, I say, ‘Do you
know the song, “Jesus Loves Me?”  If the answer is no, I sing it.’”  Mary Hiteman

First Baptist Church Weekday School (FBCW) has been bringing smiles to children’s faces for 66 years, and for 31 of them Mary Hiteman, Minister of Weekday Education, has been wearing a smile wider than those of her students.

Mary Hiteman

Miss Mary entering outer space with several preschool astronauts. Photo: Jeannie Dortch

For more than three decades, Mary has also been thinking outside the box: helping her families reach out to each other, the community and the world. Whether gardening with First Sprouts, partnering with Little Kicks’ soccer enrichment program for preschools, leading monthly service projects, visiting hospitals, or sharing different cultures through Small World, Mary is always up to something new.

“My first love is working with preschoolers, followed by training teachers to work with preschoolers.” Mary attributes the phenomenal reputation of FBCW to the “amazing faculty and the great facilities.”

But the students, parents and colleagues reveal the real secret ingredient behind the school’s success, Mary herself!

Students: “Miss Mary is the principal.”
“She welcomes us in.”
“She tells us what to do and says please.”
“She teaches us what’s in chapel and tells us reading stories.”
“Her puts music on and teaches choir.”
“I like her because she has red hair!”

Linn Kreckman, co-founder of MOM (Morning Out for Moms), the program that preceded FBCW, and mother of three children and four grandchildren attendees of FBCW: “Mary has an unassuming respect for all children. I remember her being asked about her colorful assortment of jewelry, which she wears with pride. She answered, ‘I work with children!’ The macaroni necklace she sported at the time was a gift from a young admirer.”

Gracie Barbour, teacher: “Miss Mary never misses a day greeting each child and parent in the morning as they enter and again each afternoon as they leave.”

Richie Hilbert, volunteer classroom assistant and grandmother of six attendees of FBCW: “The teachers at FBCW are graced with hearts full of unconditional love for children, a positive approach to discipline, and a genuine gift for teaching. The tone is set at the top of any organization, and Mary’s leadership is exemplary.”

Preschool feast

Preschool celebrating a Thanksgiving feast in 2009 that included
sweet and white potatoes grown in the Children’s Garden. Photo: Len Morrow

For several years Mary and Dr. Len Morrow, retired botanist and teacher, have been on a mission to teach children that what we eat is nurtured and grown in a garden and not in a grocery store. Together, they established First Sprouts, a program in which FBCW maintains the Children’s Garden at FBC’s Pusey House. Their bounty has benefited the refugee population and has supplied FBC’s kitchen with vegetables and flowers for other occasions. Len, aka Dr. Potato Head, reveres Miss Mary: “A consummate professional hiding behind a clown’s smile, Mary is one of the few people I’ve ever met who are successful at multi-tasking.”

Book Buddies

Photo: Melissa Brooks

Melissa Ansley Brooks, parent: “Soon after I approached her with the Book Buddies concept (a program connecting students at Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School with FBCW), she enthusiastically and seamlessly organized parent involvement, staff collaboration, and contributions from the community at large, igniting a genuine friendship between two groups of children who might not have otherwise crossed paths in life.”

Dan Bagby, Ph.D, Professor of Pastoral Care, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond: “Mary has a presence that communicates care and gifted guidance. Whenever she visits BTSR, our seminarians are always touched by the gentle examples she offers in responding to a child facing loss or in helping a parent understand how children grieve.”

Suzanne Shonnard, member of FBCW’s Board: “Exuding joy in every aspect of her work comes naturally for Mary. It overflows whether she is telling or listening to her students tell the stories of Jesus, or when she is putting His words into action while working with ASK (program for children with cancer). Through Mary’s leadership and her desire to expose her staff and students to all of God’s people, children under her tutelage learn that God truly has the whole world in his hands!”

Small World program

Photo: Susan Brown

A desire to introduce students to other children the world over led Miss Mary to inaugurate a multi-cultural celebration of countries on different continents. Since 1996, Small World has exposed FBCW’s preschoolers to languages, customs and songs that highlight similarities rather than differences. Mrs. Audrey Matlala, an appreciative parent wrote, “A heartfelt thanks to the school for honoring our homeland, South Africa, through teaching Neo’s preschool class about our heritage and language. This makes Neo so proud of his roots. Last night, he was teaching his sister the ‘Head and Shoulders’ song in our native language and it brought tears to my eyes to see.”

And finally,
Mary: “Whenever I need to comfort a child, we sit together in my office and close the door.  The light from the hall illuminates the stained glass window “Jesus and the Children” above my desk. As we talk, both of us are reassured in His presence, and my little charge becomes calmer as a result.”

Editor’s note: Mary began her career at FBCW on September 1, 1982. If you would like to help celebrate her anniversary, share a comment below.

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By Becky Kyle.

Vacation Bible School has changed since I attended in my childhood.

I remember going to VBS every summer and learning about God and the people in the Bible. I remember the daily processional with the salute to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible. I remember being in one classroom all morning with one set of teachers, having in-depth Bible study enhanced by activities, crafts and week-long projects. Music, snack, and recreation were breaks from the classroom.

VBS still happens every summer, but much has changed since my memories were formed.

Vacation Bible School morning assembly in the Sanctuary of First Baptist. Photo by Susan Brown.

The most exciting change is the addition of missions as a component of VBS. FBC offers children participation in mission projects that reach people in our own community, throughout the U.S., and around the world. The children have packed gift bags for the leaders of the Boys & Girls Club of Richmond, for FBC’s Community Missions clients and Grace Fellowship participants, for families at the Ronald McDonald House, for local fire fighters, and for FBC’s neighbors and homebound members. VBS children have sent their pennies to relief work for children in Israel and the Caribbean. Last year they prepared blankets and coloring books to fill backpacks for children in Africa.

FBC and Mount Moriah Baptist Church partner to help transport children to Vacation Bible School. Photo by Anthony M. Nesossis.

VBS has become an outreach ministry in Richmond. We partner with Mount Moriah Baptist Church to offer VBS to children in their congregation. We provide transportation; they provide volunteers. We also provide transportation for children from several community centers and from the New American community. As a result, a growing percentage of participants are from families who are not members of FBC.

First Baptist’s Children’s Ministry leaders carefully study and review about ten VBS curricula each year. Through prayer and discussion, they select the one best fitted to our children. Most of these curricula have a secular, fun-oriented theme with children rotating to different classrooms for each activity (i.e. Bible study, music, crafts, games, recreation, snack, missions).

“Finding Hope: A Field Trip of Faith” is this year’s curriculum. The theme is based on Together For Hope, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 20 year commitment to the 20 poorest counties in the United States. Each day VBS begins with worship followed by a Bible study that is the foundation for the day’s activities. Children then take a “field trip” to one of the 20 areas to learn through activities how God’s love is shared with the people who live there. One trip is to Helena, Arkansas, where former FBC members Ben and Leonora Newell serve. FBC partners with them through family mission trips each summer.

Children participate in arts and crafts during VBS 2010. Photo by Susan Brown.

VBS is one of FBC’s best opportunities to share God’s love with children and to help them discover God’s hope in the Bible. It teaches them of God’s love for all people and how to reach out in that love to others. That’s a VBS basic that is exactly as I remember it.

 

 

Editor’s note: Some volunteers are still needed- childcare givers with babies and toddlers, a preschool and an elementary teacher, and van drivers. Contact: Candi Brown, Brown@FBCRichmond.org, 358-5458 x150.

 


Becky KyleBecky Kyle has been attending FBC since she was a college student and joined FBC in 1984. Since then, she has served in many FBC ministries, taught children in Sunday school for the last 13 years, and volunteered with VBS most of the last 14 years. She works part-time for Fleet Auto Tag & Title Service. James and Becky have two children, Sarah and Aaron, who are active in the youth ministry.

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By Lindsey McClintock. Photo by Anthony M. Nesossis.

It can be difficult to worship and work in the same place. That’s the challenge many ministers face.

Megan Lowe

Megan Lowe found herself in the midst of this conundrum when she accepted a staff position at FBC as Children’s Ministry Assistant, working specifically as the Children’s Worship and Child Care coordinator.

Megan was dedicated as a baby (as Megan Sterrett) at FBC. From birth to college FBC was like a second home to Megan, a place of comfort, relief from life’s stresses, and a sacred place. Lynn Turner was her youth minister and the most influential minister impacting her life and development as a Christian. Lynn, she said, was always welcoming and friendly but also one to “call you out when you were out of line,” making her a role model in expressing the love of God and the expectations of discipleship. Megan felt that FBC was her church home and was always glad to come, be it for corporate worship or youth ministry.

While attending VCU, Megan became very involved with the Intervarsity ministries and found a wonderful peer group of fellow Christian university students. On Sundays this group would attend church together, exploring different churches around Richmond. It was in this group that Megan met Brandon Lowe, later to become her husband. FBC was still her home church but her engagement with the congregation was different than she had experienced as a child or youth.

Accepting a position on staff further changed that relationship. In the first year of her employment Megan saw FBC as both her place of worship and work which seemed fine, although she rarely got the chance to worship with Brandon. “I kept thinking we could worship together as a couple during the summers when I did not have children’s worship obligations but those opportunities were few and far between.” After a year of trying, Megan and Brandon decided they needed to find a different place of worship.

Being employed by FBC and having such close ties from growing up in the church brought a lot of anxiety, guilt and fear of judgment in transferring her membership to another congregation. The timing was also very unfortunate as she and Brandon found another church and withdrew her membership at the height of the membership/baptism conversation which, she emphasized, had nothing to do with their decision. Megan was pleasantly surprised in receiving great amounts of support and understanding from FBC members in reaction to her decision, which made her even more proud of FBC.

“It was a huge relief and joy to be able to worship as a couple again in total freedom. Working at the church I spent a lot of time preparing Bible studies and leading children’s worship, however, I had not realized how this had become an intellectual exercise of preparation and not one of the heart feeding me spiritually,” she recounted. It was not until she found herself worshiping next to Brandon at City Church of Richmond (whose worship services are Sunday afternoons) that she realized how much this had been missing in her life. While Megan loves her work at First Baptist Church and values the faith community which raised her, transferring her membership to a new congregation proved an important step for her continued faith development.

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By Jim Markham. Photos by Jeannie Dortch.

At Maybeury Elementary School in western Henrico, there is a happening on Monday afternoons that resembles a mini United Nations. Ten to fifteen children, from kindergarten through the fifth grade, meet after school for about an hour to be mentored and receive help with their school work. Before the work begins, there is time for snacks and a chance to chat.

So, where does the U.N. connection come in? These children and their families are new Americans from nine different countries – Brazil, Egypt, Honduras, Iraq, Liberia, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan and Ukraine. In many cases, the children have the best English-speaking skills in their families.

Children's Minister Candi Brown and a group of volunteers from FBCwork with children from international backgrounds at Maybeury Elementary School.

Last fall, Candi Brown, FBC’s Minister to Children, brought together a group of volunteers, mostly from our church, to work at Maybeury. Over the first two months, through trial and error, a system was developed and in December, the school administration took time to review how it was working. In January they decided that the children and their parents were responding well and that the program should be continued.

During a typical Monday afternoon, the enthusiasm of the children is easy to see. When one student was first asked where she was from, she responded that she didn’t know her country’s name in English, but in Spanish it is pronounced “hahn-DUR-us.” The volunteers all understood.

The volunteers spend most of their time tutoring reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also show God's love for the children.

As you might expect, most of the time is spent tutoring reading, writing (alphabet and numbers), and arithmetic. But it’s not all work. Looking around the room, one can see lots of smiles, laughter and an occasional hug – evidence of growth in a Christian environment.

For a first-hand report of what’s going on at Maybeury School on Monday afternoons, ask the volunteers for their impressions: Jeannie Dortch, Becky Goodrich, Lindsey McClintock, Candi Brown, Rachel Boykin, Bonnie Ferguson, Karin Dickerson, Inge Heidecker, and me.

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By Mary Hiteman, Minister of Weekday School.

Dr. Len Morrow helps the Weekday Preschool children use the mobile gardening cart.

When was the last time you played in the dirt and made mud pies? Let me introduce you to Mud Pie Annie, who does this delightfully in Mud Pie Annie-God’s Recipe for Doing Your Best by Sue Buchanan and Dana Shafer. Annie makes the most creative, non-edible treats with dirt and other ingredients. And she sings of her inspiration: “No matter what I do in life, I’ll do my very best. I’ll work at it with all my heart, and that’s how I’ll be blessed. Whether I make mud pies or great dishes for a queen, I’ll put my ‘ALL’ into it, for there is no in between. And as I work with all my might-as everyone knows-GOD sees what is in my heart, not the mud between my toes.”

Len Morrow (also known as Dr. Potato Head) and Jeff Dortch share Mud Pie Annie’s inspiration to do their best. Len attended a workshop for Master Gardeners in James City County last fall. He learned about plans for a mobile gardening cart that could be wheeled indoors and out, was at a height children could reach, and was self-contained with tool storage included. It seemed like a great idea for our First STEP Preschool-a partnership with FBC and ASK-Making Life Better for Children with Cancer. When Jeff found the plans inadequate, he created his own and built the cart. Len says of him: “He has the tools, the skills and my admiration.”

On March 11 six children and their teachers learned about soil from Dr. Potato Head and scattered seeds in three trays that fit perfectly in the top of the cart. A week later, lettuce and radish seeds sprouted, as well as garden peas. The children were delighted! They check on their garden each Friday with the goal of eating lettuce, radishes and peas before the school year ends on May 20. All of this gardening takes place in their classroom because of Dr. Potato Head and Jeff (who can think of an appropriate nick name for him?).

Mud Pie Annie’s favorite Bible verse fits everyone involved in this gardening project: “Work at everything you do with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23, NIrV).

For more information about First STEP Preschool, contact Mary Hiteman (Hiteman@FBCRichmond.org).

For more information about the mobile gardening cart, go to http://jccwmg.org/index.html and click on Healing Thru Gardening presentations.

Editor’s Note: see related gardening video

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Anna, a social work student serving wtih CHSVA, coordinated the suitcase drive with Candi Brown, FBC’s Minister to Children. Candi previously worked for CHSVA. Photo by Janet Chase.

The Children’s Home Society of Virginia (CHSVA) works with local social service agencies that provide services for children in foster care. As these children are moved from one facility to another, they often have only trash bags to “pack” their belongings in. FBC’s suitcase drive collected more than 32 suitcases and duffel bags so the kids in our area will have something permanent to use as they transition.

If you are interested in participating in this effort, look in the Sunday Morning News and the Wednesday Night News for information on a drive next fall.

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