St. John Lutheran Preschool-Mukwonago,Wisconsin
When Catherine St. John ’13 was in second grade, her parents enrolled her in a WELS school. They weren’t church-goers. They simply wanted a better school.
Catherine distinctly remembers many firsts: sitting in a WELS church for the first time, attending Sunday School for the first time, and learning the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning Prayer.
By third grade, the Holy Spirit had worked through the gospel shared by her pastor and teachers to create faith in little Catherine’s heart—and in the hearts of the rest of her family too.
Now Catherine is the teacher sharing the gospel with little hearts. “As an early childhood called worker,” she says, “I get to work with many families like my own family, ones not connected to the WELS—at least not yet.”
Director and Lead Teacher
Catherine graduated from MLC in 2013 with a double major in elementary ed and early childhood ed. She was called to St. John Lutheran Preschool in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, where she is director and lead teacher. With the assistance of two part-time aides and several volunteers, she teaches 38 children age 3, 4, and 5.
“There is always so much happening and yet so much more to be done,” she says. “I’m both the teacher and the director. I’m responsible for all the teaching in the preschool room and the various duties that accompany this. As the director, I’m responsible for the administration of all early childhood programs, along with outreach and future planning.
“Sometimes the days can be long or tiring,” she admits, “but a hug from a child, a connection made with a family, or seeing a preschooler in church makes the long hours worth it.”
A Vibrant Family Ministry
Seeing a new preschooler in church is not a rare event. St. John’s, a growing church about a half-hour southwest of Milwaukee, has added about 100 members every year for the last three years. They’ve also added another pastor and a vicar.
Beginning in fall 2018, they’ll have an expanded preschool as well. They applied for and received a $30,000 grant from the Antioch Foundation to convert an existing classroom and restroom into a second preschool room, complete with new furniture, materials, and curriculum resources.
The preschool is an important link in a whole chain of vibrant family ministries at St John’s. The Mornings with Mommy program includes nonmembers and unchurched families. This year, six children moved up from Mornings with Mommy to the church preschool, and two families have started membership classes. And graduating preschoolers often become kindergartners in the elementary school.
Catherine is humbled to be a part of this gospel ministry. “It’s always been amazing to me that God uses us, sinful and weak human beings, to spread his holy, precious, saving Word,” she says. “Think about that for a moment. God could have spread the message of salvation any way he wanted, but he chose to work through us. Crazy. Mind-blowing. Amazing.”
The Gospel at Home and School
Catherine and her staff share the gospel with the students in many ways: “The gospel message is a daily part of our school day,” she says, “emphasizing Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. We study Bible stories, sing Bible songs, pray to God, and learn about God’s
The first book the little ones receive at preschool is a Bible. “When I hand these Bibles out, I talk with parents about the importance of reading to a child daily. In my weekly newsletters, I include the Bible lesson we learned in preschool and the page numbers of the children’s Bible that correspond with our lesson. I love hearing from parents that their little one asks to read this Bible before bedtime.”
The Word Works
Catherine remembers her own childhood conversion as she says, “The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of these little ones as they hear God’s Word. He also is working through these little ones as they witness to their families through their Bible songs and words. “God’s Word works when and how he chooses,” she continues. “It will not return to him empty, but will accomplish what he desires and achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11).
“At St. John’s, we get to lay God’s Word on the ears and hearts of 38 little preschoolers this year. God be praised for this.”
Catherine’s Message to Those Considering Early Childhood Ministry
What’s great about ECE: As early childhood teachers, we lay the framework—colors, shapes, letters—but, more important, we are able to instill in children a love for learning and a hunger for knowledge, and build all of this on the foundation of Christ. What will make your day as an ECE teacher: I enjoy taking time to understand children and engage them in deeper conversations, I absolutely love when they express a thought or wonder about something that I hadn’t even thought of before!
What you can do even now: If you aren’t sure about teaching, give yourself time and immerse yourself in teaching experiences. During my summers at MLC, I had the opportunity to work with children and congregations across the United States. These experiences really helped me in my teaching ministry.
This feature was originally published in the MLC InFocus, Spring 2018 issue.