Dean Letter: A Pandemic Success Story

This is a transcript of the conversation between the Dean and Maya Little-Saña. Some sentences were not captured by the transcription software.

Penny: Hello, St. Paul’s. This week I want to share with you about one of our ministries that has been quietly flourishing and growing throughout the pandemic. I’ve asked our wonderful children, youth and families minister, Maya Little-Saña, to join me and answer a few questions. Maya, tell us a little about yourself and how you found St. Paul’s and your faith journey.

Maya:  Fantastic. Well, hello, thanks for inviting me to do this Penny. It’s an exciting opportunity to talk about family ministry. I found St. Paul’s five, six years ago on Yelp. So I was 15. I was baptized as an Episcopalian. But then we never went to church after that, like, at all. But I was always very drawn to Jesus, he kind of seems like this really exclusive kind of guy. And I was just really interested. And a lot of my friends were Christians. And I was like, Who is this Jesus guy?

Penny: Tell us about your priorities for this ministry.

Maya:  …  I want to promote, showing up as your whole self to church, and creating programs that make it feel safe to do so. because growing up, you know, there was, you know, for a long time, “Sunday morning Maya”, and then “weekday at school Maya”. And so what I want to encourage is offering programs that are, like fun and silly, that encourage vulnerability and make it safe to just be your whole self, not just your Sunday morning self, whatever that looks like, you know, you don’t have to be your Sunday best. You can be your best you that you always are. And I think I think Yeah, I strive for that level of authenticity. And I also want to provide families tools to have faith formation at home, to kind of expound upon that idea of faith formation extending beyond Sunday morning.

Penny: Wow, I’m really impressed by the breadth and the the way you articulate those goals and priorities: to give our kids a foundation of faith and their inheritance and to free them to be fully themselves, and then to give their parents their families tools at home as well. It’s just extraordinary. So, do you have a favorite Bible story or scripture passage or verse that you feel is sort of the foundation for your ministry?

Maya:  Oh, boy, there’s a lot. And it’s a challenge to think of one – I’m sure you can relate. I think the most obvious – and this really kept coming up when we were building the prayground in the nave that we utilized before the pandemic –  is Matthew or sorry, Luke, what is it 18:9, let the children come to me, do not hinder them, you know, for you have to be like a child to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And so I think that goes into that idea of offering opportunities for kids to show up as kids but as spiritual teachers as kids.

Penny: Tell us a little about what’s been happening for each of our age groups, since the pandemic began.

Maya:  Oh, boy, yeah, a lot’s been going on. And really exciting stuff. So I’ll start I guess, youngest up, with our kids crew group, which are ages four to 10. We didn’t have access to the materials. We couldn’t do godly play on a virtual setting. So we instead shifted, which at first was really hard to understand, but to do. And we meet every Sunday on zoom now at noon, and we kind of shifted to a more seasonal approach or model for faith formation. What I mean by that is, instead of a rota, of godly play stories that continue throughout the year, we wanted to kind of mimic adult formation, how there’s the series that go on, right, whether that’s a series on creation care, exploring the Beatitudes, spiritual autobiography, all of that, right, we kind of implemented that model of the short term, or, you know, the seasonal series. And we’ve been utilizing curriculum, a lot of it from this company called Illustrated Ministry. And, as the name would imply, it’s an art based curriculum that is just really immersive and really exciting to us. And kids get materials monthly, whether that’s through delivery or pickup, shout out to Joanna Airhart and Carolyn Lief for their help with that, very helpful. And these toolkits have the coloring pages, the craft supplies, some treats that they’ll need for their Sunday lessons. And then there’s also I’ve been utilizing Google Classroom as an online learning space to post all of the coloring pages and all of that, for families that live further away. We’ve actually had families that live in like Denver, like my little cousins joining us now; they can download those, or if they need an extra copy at any time. And so that also, if a family’s feeling like zoomed out, just “no more zoom sessions, please,” they can download those materials and do them as a family offline. We also try to offer monthly events just to supplement our time together and involve parents in that process. So we’ve had the Halloween parade. That was really fun. And baking cookies on Zoom. We’re having an upcoming Ratatouille movie night: stuff like that. And then we had the pageant. Oh, that was so much fun. That was so good.

And then with youth crew, which is ages 11 to 18, pretty early on in the pandemic, Charlette Pressler and I from Christchurch Coronado combined forces. Youth crew had previously been meeting at noon hour at the cathedral on Sundays, but now we meet Tuesday evenings at 6:30. And that has been working out so well, that partnership in ministry, because we have half the work, you know, we split the responsibility and double the kids each. So we have an average of 10 kids usually per session. So that makes you know, our youth group, which was you know, two to four or two kids, now 10 kids, right. So on average, we have about four kids from St. Paul’s and six from Christ Church. And then in July, we launched a Dismantling Racism series for six weeks. I am the trained facilitator for that program in the diocese; I was trained at the Absolom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta last January, when we went to Rooted in Jesus, that conference, which is seems so far away. And that’s been an amazing series. Well, I guess it was a challenge converting this in person curriculum to the digital sphere. But that worked out. So we are currently in the second iteration of that series, which is really exciting. And just like kids crew, we try to offer those monthly events. When the [COVID] numbers weren’t as bad, we did a social distanced bonfire. We’ve done virtual trivia nights, that kind of thing. Um, and then the parents, so we had been talking for a very long time, pre pandemic, of forming some sort of parent small group. And we did it in July of this year. So that was really exciting, to see that come to fruition. And so parents meet monthly on the fourth Sunday of the month; usually it consists of a check in mutual kind of sharing of how it’s been going, then followed by a short worship service of evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. So it’s an opportunity to offer mutual support and worship together, which is exciting.

Penny: How do you feel about the numbers of people participating compared to pre pandemic?

Maya:  I’ve been really, you know, pleasantly surprised by not only increased attendance, but also just engagement. I think before with our kids crew, for example, we had you know, it ranged wildly from you know, you’d have one kid and godly play and then suddenly you’d have seven and then three, but they’d all be different kids, right? So there wasn’t necessarily the buy in or perhaps consistency that would reflect buy in from families. But now we have a very core group of you know, eight to 10 kids, which for me is so exciting that we’re seeing you know, the kids that we’re in relationship with and are building community with every week. We’ve also have four more kids from our Misa service coming consistently, which you know, a year ago, we didn’t have that. So that’s really, really cool to have their attendance. And then with the youth crew, it’s kind of the same story, where it would fluctuate one to like, four or five max. But then being kind of the different kids, and now it’s a consistent group, you know, buying in and attending and stuff. So that’s really exciting.

Penny: It’s a real success story, to hear how you’ve built this, through consistency and your creativity and being able to adapt; you’re a digital native, and that must help a little bit. And to bring the Spanish speaking group in as well. So I mean, you have some bilingual stuff going on, I think, don’t you? It’s one of the places where we can bring our Anglo and Latino congregation together. And that’s such an important thing to do. It’s just wonderful to hear about this. So what comes next? Do you have plans for the ministry, looking forward?

Maya:  As far as plans can go in the time we’re in! I’ve been okay, with virtual programming, you know, I miss Eucharist, I miss seeing people in person. But I could stay here for a bit as far as, you know, continuing this, but I imagine that when we start to transition to in-person services, I think family ministry is going to be a couple steps behind that. Mainly because we do have kids that don’t live in San Diego, and to just kind of shut off virtual programming. I want to kind of transition a bit more slowly. And also parents, of course, might feel many different ways about their child’s you know, safety, and coming back. And yes, so I think it’ll be a transition. And perhaps we’ll continue to offer those one off programs, virtually, right, those special events in the kind of more immediate future. And I’m really looking forward to continuing these series, these little programs with the kids crew, planning intergenerational offerings that we had started to do when we were you know, in person, and it’s been kind of harder to figure that out, virtually. But I hope to develop that. And with the youth, I’m really loving the collaboration with other parishes and with the diocese, on youth programming. And I really do like diocesan collaboration, not just with family ministry, but with many other ministries. Really, it is  an exciting prospect, especially as we have our Revival coming up in December. And so youth from the dismantling racism series, and the youth that we sent to the virtual diocesan convention are planning out racial pilgrimage sites to do and to research. And that’s really exciting.

Penny: Wow, that’s super. And you mentioned Joanna and Carolyn as being really helpful and supportive. How can the broader Cathedral community help and support you, because this is a ministry that’s quietly going along being successful? But I think a lot of people until now maybe didn’t realize that it was going on; so how can other people get involved?

Maya:  Well, we have monthly family ministry committee meetings that are open the first Tuesday of every month at four. And that is an opportunity to get the most up to date information on what’s going on. There’s many ways to help. So maybe that’s boosting communications and sending it to people, you know, that might be interested. Maybe it’s delivering toolkits or helping with pickup or, you know, talking about like, hosting a virtual event of some kind, that would be really great as well.

Penny: Great. I hope that you’ll get lots of offers of help, and I’m looking forward to the special family service on Ash Wednesday, we’re going to do via Zoom, it’s at four o’clock on Ash Wednesday. I’m looking forward to being a part of that. Maya you’re a gifted theologian and minister and you must have big plans for your future. I mean, here you are doing full time college and your work for us half time, I think now maybe more. So, do you have any idea what lies in your future?

Maya:  So I’m currently embarking on my junior year at San Diego State and I’m majoring in religious studies, predictably, and a minor in social work. And I feel quite drawn to continuing ministry, whatever that looks like, whether that’s lay ministry or ordained, but also working, you know, in social work; I’m extremely passionate about, you know, ending mass incarceration and the justice system, and children in youth. So something that intersects with all of that, and I don’t think that’s too far of a reach. I think they all have very similar qualities, Ministry of Social Work.

Penny: Well, I think whatever you set out to do, you’re going to do it. And I hope that you’ll always be able to count on the cathedral community to be here to support you. And we’ll do whatever it takes to support you in this. Thank you for the work you do with our kids and our families. I know that it’s very much appreciated. We struggled with family ministry for years and you’ve you found a way to have it flourish during this very difficult time. So thank you, and congratulations. And I look forward to the future. So, for our viewers, St. Paul’s Cathedral, thank you for watching once again and see you on Sunday.

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