Yesterday I received word that Jan Noller passed away. I got to know Jan in the early 1990’s when she served on the staff of the Twin Cities Area, and I served Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview. Our congregation was then going through a process of changing the way we do Sunday School. I was relatively new to parish ministry and Jan patiently helped the congregation and me successfully negotiate our changes.
Ironically we had an Education meeting last night at Chain of Lakes. At the meeting Gary Wassam shared a prayer of thanksgiving for Jan’s life and for her ministry. On the ride home we laughed and shared stories about Jan. Basically we remembered a woman who was a valued educational mentor to both of us.
Jan went out of her way to encourage people in educational ministries. She introduced me to A.P.C.E., a national conference of Christian Educators. She was able to get me a scholarship to attend my first A.P.C.E. conference which was held in Atlanta. I never knew about A.P.C.E. Discovering this conference was important to me. For a while I attended the conference almost every year and eventually took people from my congregation.
This was my experience of how Jan developed leaders. She got me interested in something in hopes that I would get other people interested.
Just recently I experienced Jan’s influence. As we continue to develop our educational ministries at Chain of Lakes we pulled out a book that Jan helped write with Pat Channer and Kathy Waugh called, “Help, We need to organize an educational program.”
Jan was part of a generation of women who are passionate about Christian Education in the PC(USA). I’ve always believed that our denomination has not valued these Christian Educators enough. Most Educators don’t have full-time jobs in the church, they don’t have job protection that pastors have, and they aren’t paid as well as us ordained pastors. I believe we Presbyterians treat these Educators as second-class citizens. But they still toil away with persistence and determination.
In my conversation last night with Gary, I mentioned Jan’s unique conversational style. Jan was an excellent listener. When I talked to Jan, she would often say the word, “yes.” She said it as a way to encourage me to say more. She would say, “yes,” and I would make another statement. As the two of us would talk the intensity of our conversation would rise with each statement. We would often end in laughter.
The last time I saw Jan was in the early 2000’s when my wife, Amy, and I were visiting the northwest. Jan was a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, a church served by one of my seminary roommates. She had never met Amy or my daughter. We had a wonderful conversation of catching up.
Even though I hadn’t seen her since then, she was still a part of my ministry. As a wise mentor her influence guided my decisions in educational ministry. I know that many folks in our Presbytery were touched and influenced by Jan. I hope that at some time in the future we can gather to share recollections and stories about Jan.
Praise God for committed servants like Jan Noller.