I am the son of a children’s minister.

My mom served in that capacity for 20 years at First Baptist Church in Greensboro. She was good at what she did, advocated strongly for the place of children in the life of a thriving church, and still has very definite opinions about best (and worst) practices for nurturing girls and boys in the Christian faith.

In other words, when it comes to children’s ministry, my mom knows what she’s talking about.

So, when she learned that I had been called to Providence, the first thing—and I really do mean the very first thing—my mom said to me was: “Oh, good! You’re going to get to work with Julia Wright! She’s one of the best in the business.” That’s a pretty strong endorsement—and it didn’t take me long to learn for myself just how spot-on true it was.

As hundreds of Providence children and their families can attest from their own first-hand experience, Julia is indeed one of the best in the business. Since 2003 she has served our church as Minister with Children and their Families with devotion, dedication, and a tremendous amount of love for the little ones entrusted to her care. Julia is retiring at the end of this month, and we’ll be celebrating her ministry at Providence on Sunday, July 25.

And there is a great deal to celebrate. The nuts-and-bolts logistics of leading a strong children’s ministry can be daunting. Figuring out what to do is just the beginning. To make it all happen— week after week, year after year—there are volunteers to recruit, supplies to order, volunteers to recruit, relationships to build, volunteers to recruit, schedules to create, volunteers to recruit, new curricula to evaluate, volunteers to recruit, teacher preps to put together, volunteers to recruit, special events to plan, and volunteers to recruit. Even then, once all that’s been done, there are still, usually, volunteers to recruit.

Children’s ministry is not a calling for the faint of heart. Instead, I’d say it’s a calling for the great of heart—for those who are willing to pour themselves into the profound, life-shaping privilege of introducing children to the good news that God loves them, Jesus is their friend, and church is a happy place to be. It’s in these crucial, early years that a sturdy foundation for future faith can be laid by ministers who take this holywork seriously and are willing to partner with parents in making the necessary investments of time, attention, energy, and love.

Julia is one of those ministers.

From the large-scale orchestration of yet another phenomenal VBS, to the small-scale personal touch of making special phone calls to children on their birthdays, she has, for eighteen years, been the hands and feet and voice of Jesus for children here at Providence. She has also been, for many families, their first point of contact with Providence. We are a better, stronger church because of her ministry.

I have been both impressed by, and grateful for, Julia’s consistent willingness to pitch in when and where she’s needed. As a colleague, she is reliable and supportive and creative in trying to expand our church’s reach and make our work more effective. I’ve learned that I can always count on Julia to be a voice of common sense in the room. Come the end of this month, I will miss working alongside of her.

That said, the good news is that, while Julia is retiring as our Minister with Children and their Families, she is not retiring from Providence—or from her calling to serve Jesus by serving children. In September, Julia begins her retirement gig as a preschool teacher in our Weekday Education Ministry. We gladly welcome her back and look forward to many fruitful years ahead as she continues to make a positive difference in the lives of boys and girls entrusted to our care.

So, to one of the best in the business: Well done, good and faithful servant! A grateful church salutes you for reminding us, in word and deed, that a faithful church always welcomes children in the name of Jesus.

May the peace of Christ be with you!