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Heart Matters: "Balancing Hats"

While I was herding a group of children to their classroom, a little boy rushed up and tugged on my pant leg.

"I know who you are," he said, grinning enthusiastically. "You're The Molly! Mom says I go to you when I'm bad in Sunday school!"

As he scampered away down the hall, I shook my head. There was another hat I hadn't even noticed.

"So many hats, so little time!" What an appropriate saying for Christian education ministers. In the midst of administering and ministering, our hats fly on and off. And sometimes -- as demonstrated by this young boy -- we aren't even aware of the hat we're wearing until someone brings it to our attention. I was wearing my herding hat, but he saw my disciplinarian hat.

I'm often reminded of the wonderful children's book Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina where the cap peddler walks deliberately, trying to balance the tower of caps on his head, one hand constantly checking to make sure they're balanced. Sometimes I feel like that peddler in my ministry, always taking on new responsibilities, allowing more hats to accumulate until the pile teeters precariously.

Fifteen years ago, I was a little hesitant when I was asked to be a teacher for a handful of children. Was I ready to try on this foreign, new hat? I wasn't sure. But once I accepted it, it turned out to be a good fit.

During the next several years, I accumulated other hats and traded in some. I took off my teacher hat after two years and donned an early-childhood coordinator hat. Five years later, I was offered the assistant director of religious education hat, and I took it. I had to pull the coordinator hat down a bit closer over my ears to make room for that big hat! And still later, I tugged on the director's hat.

As I changed hats, sometimes I found the fit loose, which gave me the opportunity to try new ideas or create new programs -- like when I added our vacation Bible camp. Sometimes, though, a hat was tight and difficult to get on. With those, I learned I needed to wait until I had more time to adjust the fit. Some hats were simply handed to me -- like when I was asked to add a special class for children joining the church. Other times, I found myself holding a hat I never knew I had.

There've been times when my tower of hats has al-most crashed to the ground. Once, two of my biggest events were scheduled on the same weekend: the preteen's in-house retreat and first communion for younger children. On top of that, I was working on my budget, getting everything ready for preregistration, and planning end-of-year celebrations -- adding financial, secretarial, and party hats to the pile.

I planned and prayed in preparation, and then watched helplessly as my hats accumulated as quickly as I could change clothes for each event. But in the middle of dancing and singing with the preteens and shooing away the kids' first-communion butterflies, I started to think. I realized that by focusing only on the hats, I was losing sight of the big picture. Here I was, witnessing the awesome spiritual growth of scores of preteens and seeing 17 smiling little faces join God's family -- but I was missing the meaning of it all because Iwas so afraid my tower of teetering hats was about to crash to the ground.

Though it's not always easy, experience has taught me that balancing many hats in this ministry is a given. We're always called to do more, learn more, seek more, and give more. I realize that it's God's hand -- not mine -- checking to make sure all the hats don't fall. cm

Molly Wright is a director of religious education in Columbia, Missouri.

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