Youth & Family Pastor ~ Story Board

 How might a Youth & Family Pastor, dedicated to working with Intermediate, Middle School and High School youth make a difference in our church and in our community?

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On Wednesday, May 30, the Council adopted the proposal to pursue funding and support to call a Youth and Family Pastor for Peace.  The letter that went out electronically via email and by regular mail to all for whom we did not have an email address can be accessed by clicking here.   Each week stories will be added to this page from church leaders, youth, pastoral staff, and others who have been shaped by important experiences in their childhood and adolescent years related to faith formation and how/why they believe a Youth and Family Pastor might impact our community in essential and life giving ways. 

unnamed (2)I am Liz Fleming, also a member of the church council. Matt and I joined Peace about 3 years ago looking for a church home for our family. We have been thrilled with our experience here, especially for our kids. The preschool is amazing. We are so grateful to the youth who get up early on Sunday mornings to staff the nursery, so we can listen to the sermon instead of trying to distract our 2-year-old with crayons and raisins. And we are especially thankful for KIX, where our 4-year-old learned the Lord’s Prayer, but more importantly learned that teenage girls and teenage BOYS can teach about God. I hope it also taught them that their voices matter, because these young people taught my 4-year-old something that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. I was all for buying the property, but I’m glad that it isn’t a financial option for us right now, because I think we have more important work to do.  I’m a family doc and the day of our meeting this week I saw 5 teenagers in clinic. Four needed to talk about depression and anxiety. Three take medication for it. One is addicted to drugs. One has a partner who has been abusive and is thinking about suicide. Now, do I think hiring a Youth and Family Pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Waunakee can fix all that? No. But, in a world where our kids and adolescents are faced with school shootings, an opiate epidemic and a crisis of faith – and I don’t mean christian faith, I mean faith in humanity and in their value, I want our church to be a safe place for them. A place to question and to be vulnerable and to play. Do I think hiring a youth and family pastor can build that? Absolutely. 

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I am Amy Dresen, and I have 12 and 16 year old children who have greatly benefited from their participation in this church. My 12 year old just completed the Route 56 program and is looking forward to Route 78 and confirmation. My 16 year old was confirmed in the fall and has been a member of the PYLT this school year. The friendships and faith formed and strengthened through the youth programming here at Peace is phenomenal. My belief, both personal as a mom of youth in the programming and as your Council president, is that the number of youth here at Peace warrant this exploration of having a Youth and Family Pastor. These kids are the future of the this congregation and the greater church. If we can strengthen their faith and keep them coming back, we have the ability to spread God’s grace and growth the church here and as a whole. 


unnamed (1)I’m Dave Smith, a transplant to Waunakee 3 years ago when I retired from a 35 year career as a family physician in Sheboygan County.  I suppose I represent the ”senior segment” of Peace, specifically the senior Snowbird segment. I don’t have children who are apt to benefit from a Youth and Family Ministry – my kids are the age of Amy & Liz ! However I can offer myself as living proof of the positive impact of a Youth and Family Ministry (YFM) program. I grew up south of here in Rockford, a teen in the stormy late 60’s and early 70’s. I grew out of a family that was falling apart, in a society that that seemed to be falling apart. I was floundering, moving from an Eagle Scout at age 15 to substance abuse and excess at 17.  I was hanging out with two circles of friends that had dramatically direct trajectories for life. They seemed to pull me in very different directions, and somehow I seemed to bounce from one to the other on a daily basis. Thankfully, one of those friends invited me to join their loving, accepting, dynamic youth program at a Lutheran congregation down the street from my home congregation; one that welcomed and helped me clean up my life, and eventually turn away from the negative influences. Not overnight like a light switch, but gradually. It was supported by a congregation that didn’t know me … or many of the others of that group … but they supported the ministry because they believed that a Christian outreach to teens was a great investment. This thought struck me recently as our church council was discussing our YFM proposal … the impact a congregation can have on youth who effectively are strangers, yet searching. Without that community at that critical time in my life, I have little doubt that I would not have enjoyed the blessed life that I have, or been something of a blessing to the people I have tried spend my life serving.
So after reflecting on this YFM proposal these past weeks … despite my initial skepticism … I feel a strong sense of gratitude for what strangers in that Rockford congregation did for me half a century ago. Now I don’t know most of the kids here at Peace; they are largely strangers to me. My grandchildren live in other communities, and I have to rely on those congregations to do the right thing for them.  But Peace is my church home, and I am supportive of using my time and tithes here to expanding our youth and family ministry. I hope there are others who will join me.

unnamed (2)Like many, we joined Peace within the last few years. While there are many reasons we love Peace and believe it is a wonderful fit for our family, one is the significant focus on programming for young children. We love the way young kids are welcomed in worship and the programming that KiX offers, and we love meeting other families who share similar values.

As Pastor Karen often says, so many churches are in decline these days, but Peace is one church that is growing. Much of that growth has come from families that have been introduced to Peace through the preschool, or other young families who have moved to Waunakee. As our council president Amy said in her recent letter to the congregation, KiX and Route 56 have seen average attendance triple in the past few years. To keep up with this growth, it will become more and more important to keep individuals and families engaged and involved in the life of the church.

Bringing on a youth and family life pastor will help us as a congregation to shepherd this large group of youngsters through the sometimes turbulent middle school and high school years. This is a unique age group that faces unique challenges, and having a full-time, dedicated pastor for this group will help them address those challenges while continuing to grow in their faith. And it will give our current pastoral staff more flexibility to continue to lead and grow the congregation in other ways.

We are thrilled that Peace is considering adding a youth and family life pastor. We believe that doing so will help cement relationships with our existing families, will provide needed support to an important group within our congregation, and will set the groundwork for continued growth.                ~Anne Reynolds

zielgerMy name is Maggie Ziegler. My husband Neil and I joined Peace about 6 years ago, and we have an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter who have both benefited tremendously from the youth programming at Peace. Both kids attended Peace Preschool for a combined total of 5 years and have greatly enjoyed attending KIX on Sundays, as well as singing in Joyful Noise. Peace has become a place where they have made wonderful friends and started to build their faith from an early age.

For the large population of families in our church with young children, youth programming is a critical piece of the puzzle as our kids get older. As the outside influences in their lives become more prevalent, it will become more and more critical to have a safe place to land here at Peace. A Youth and Family Minister would be such a blessing to so many families and will truly help to build the future of Peace and the ELCA. I urge the church to support this addition to the staff, and I look forward to the many ways we all will benefit from this new ministry!

VDI’m Tim Van Deelen. I am a professor at UW-Madison and a second- term council member. We’ve attended Peace for roughly 14 years. When we joined, Carol and I were introduced to you standing here in the front holding the very nervous and self-conscious hands of our twins, Grace and Koby, who were first graders at the time. We now represent the demographic of families beginning the transition to empty nester-hood. Grace and Koby recently finished their freshman years in college and Carol and I have adjusted to attending church as just the two of us again. Our kids grew up in this congregation moving through Sunday school to confirmation. During that time, I’ve been on several search committees, the facilities task force and I’ve written for Peace’s newsletter during Advent and Lent. But by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done for this church is to try and teach the boys’ groups when my kids were in the route 56 and route 78 pre-confirmation classes. Turns out, my schtick as the learned and sober university professor doesn’t translate very well on Wednesday nights in front of a group of rowdy and rambunctious middle-schoolers and pre-teens. I gamely took my turn though it was not my finest hour.

I did not have the benefit of a youth pastor growing up and I remember feeling sort of abandoned when, at our version of confirmation, the pastor welcomed me into full participation as a member of the church. You see full participation was an adult world and it was intimidating and I had no real model for how I was going to insert myself and no confidence about doing so.

As a professor, and now as a Dad, I interact with young people who are in the latter stages of that transition into adulthood. We forget, I think, how different things look from their perspective and how important and maybe how uncertian the transition is physically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. These young people have so much to offer our community and finding that sweet-spot between developing and guiding and honoring and affirming their growing independence and autonomy is not as easy as you might think.

We are blessed at Peace to have people who have a genuine talent and gift for leadership with our young people. My kids have benefitted from those of you who have taught the faith formation classes and led the mission trips and recruited the nursery workers. Thank you. I love that our community celebrates milestones like confirmation and high school graduation, and I am personally grateful now for those in our community with the simple gift of making a fuss over the college students who return after the spring semesters end. Our young people should feel like they belong here – as they are now in addition to as they are becoming adults. Doing this effectively is worth the investment in a person who can devote themselves more fully and who has seminary training in addition to personal commitment.

My support for a youth and family pastor is rooted in my concern that we support and enhance our congregations’ efforts at communicating and demonstrating that our young people belong and are important to us for the gifts they contribute.


smithWhy Does Peace Need to Invest in a Youth and Family Ministry Leader?

As a 28 year member there are many things I love and am grateful for about Peace.  However, the aspect that has had the most impact is how our time at Peace has contributed significantly to our two daughters (now 22 and 25) growing into self-assured, civic-minded and compassionate young women with a deep understanding of the impact our Christian values and theology play in protecting our environment, human rights and well-being.

A Background Rooted in Faith Is Critical for our Youth Today

Let’s face it – going through middle and high school is no picnic and is made even tougher here in Waunakee’s competitive environment which expects everyone to fit in and not be the “uncool” kid.    Having a safe space to:   be yourself, discuss daily challenges while hearing about God’s grace, and experience camaraderie while serving others can be the difference between having the confidence to be true to yourself and to going down paths that lead to unhealthy behaviors.  Peace youth programs offered my kids the chance to turn to their faith in the tough times.

Ensuring Future Church Leaders (Lay and Ordained) Is More Important Than Ever Before

Under Pastor Karen’s leadership during the past ten years, Peace has given our youth the opportunity to test the waters of what it means to be a leader within and outside of the church.  We consistently offer each and every kid at Peace the ability to stretch themselves in serving as a leader in new and innovative ways and at a level that surpasses that which occurs at even some of the larger churches in the ELCA.  At Peace kids learn that being an ELCA church leader requires welcoming all, and consideration of different perspectives as we explore what it means “to be church” in our world.  At a time when the church has a significant gap in rostered leaders, (1,000 anticipated to be unfilled) and lay leadership is expected to be even more important to the church’s viability – it is critical that we as congregations do our part in raising up future church leaders. 

Strong Youth Programming Will Positively Impact Our Community and Greater Society

Contrary to my church experience as a youth – here at Peace our youth programs encourage questioning and deliberation.  Here it is ok to seek a deeper understanding of opposing opinions, to question complex topics (biblically based and otherwise), and to explore differing political ideologies.  While Peace youth may not “get it” right away, I have witnessed firsthand how the foundation being created through opportunities for civil discourse are lifetime lessons that carry forward with our young members and will serve them as adults as they create safe spaces for others to share differing opinions and seek first to understand. 

Doing this right and creating these opportunities times considerable time and effort – it is therefore my belief, that for these reasons and many others, we need to support Youth and Family Ministry leadership here at Peace. 

Christine Smith

PetroffAs a musician, my faith is affirmed in the singing of hymns, rich piano textures and vibrations of winds, pipes and strings. Words and teachings resonate and become most comfortable for me when accompanied by our musical language.

We have a vibrant community at Peace for so many reasons, but the most important for me are through the work that our pastors and educational staff do to share the words and stories in impactful and relevant ways, music that inspires and encourages participation by all, and a welcoming congregation spanning a wide range of ages and backgrounds.  I feel Peace continually strives to embody the words of the fourth verse of the hymn “All are Welcome;”


Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.

 All are welcome, in this place.

These words bring images of our kids as we hear their laughter in our halls, console them and dry their tears, and hear their voices singing songs of love and praise. This summer’s musical camp was truly awesome as these kids, from kindergarten through high school played, sang, danced, made art, and loved and cared for one another. It was a joy to witness.

Peace is doing wonderful things for our youth and families because of the dedicated work of our educational programming in KiX and the preschool, and due to the mindful and inclusive actions of our pastors, staff, and Council. Now, more than ever, the children of our culture are feeling lonely and disconnected, they ask questions that are difficult for parents to answer, and they often feel that their voices are not being heard. Peace has been a place of solace for many of our kids, but there are many who have not been reached.  Can we make this a place where they truly feel that they are not only welcome, but their unique emotional and spiritual needs are being met? How amazing would it be in the lives of our young people if we had someone dedicated to their important piece of our puzzle? Someone who will name each one, hear their songs and visions for their futures, listen to their sorrows and dry their tears, and lead them in cacophonous praise as they lift their voices.

Molly Petroff

I am Doug Locken, one of the Pastors here at Peace. One of the reasons that I am a pastor goes back to a time in my youth. My church was a small rural one where most of the people who attended were relatives of some sort or close neighbors. I was invited by high school friends to come to things at their church—the big Lutheran church—in town. (Karen’s church). They had a youth pastor. Often he would do things like open the church youth center after basketball games or have nights when we could hang out—play games, listen to music, dance, sit around a fire, eat popcorn, etc. Often the evening would end with a campfire experience…and include Holy Communion inside or outside. It was a way of experiencing faith in parameters that were unique to us. He got to know us—hundreds of us—and had a pulse on the youth in our community. He knew when we had messed up and sought us out and talked to us with grace. We could ask him anything—questions about sex, drugs, how to deal with our friends, our families, our parents. For me, he offered places for us to safely explore the perimeters of our growing by directing us in gentle ways to look deeper, to consider our individual gifts, to push to become who God had created each of us to be. He was another adult in our lives that invited us to become the best of who we were.  Peace is in a position to provide that to our youth. Peace could offer the youth in our community a full time pastor dedicated to their growing, their thriving, their faith formation in ways that are unique to their particular time of life.
KarenI am Karen Locken, the Lead Pastor here at Peace. My adolescent years, and thereby my life,  were shaped by a ministry that my home congregation began by adding a Youth Pastor to the pastoral team.  (The same one Doug talked about). He did Summer ministries that were amazing. Short trips. Long trips. He found music that fostered our faith formation. He found venues that became church for us in fresh ways—a barn called “East of Eden”, an old farmhouse where we sometimes had overnights. For us, he brought a way of being that was inclusive, allowed each of us to explore the gifts inside of us, and spoke Jesus in ways that were normal to our experience. He made us think. He welcomed us and encouraged us to welcome others into the safe place of church. So many kids from so many places became part of what our church was doing—popular kids, athletes, edgy kids, kids from all the parts of a high school community. That, of course, was a long time ago. And yet, when I became the Youth and Family Life pastor at St. Lukes, Middleton in 1997, kids needed those same things. Twenty years later, I think kids still need those kinds of people in their lives. At. St. Luke’s, we did different things than the ones I grew up doing, but with the same openness, the same inclusiveness, the same possibilities for being welcomed to be one’s self, to become more fully who you were created to be in the midst of middle school and high school.  What a Youth and Family Life pastor can bring to a congregation, is a focus on an area of ministry that is vital to the faith formation of young people. In a world where anxiety and pressures continue to grow, where opioid issues are epidemic, where kids are discerning so many things about their own personhood, this is a ministry that can help them survive and thrive. It is an investment in a future that is filled with hope and shaped by love.