Formerly an elementary school teacher in Oakland, California, Bennett has always been interested in the spirituality of each of her students, said a news release from the Seminary of the Southwest, which is based in Austin, Texas. When she was later hired as a Christian educator at a Berkeley Episcopal church in 1980, Bennett was given the keys to the parish classroom and not much else in the way of training or support.
"I did not know anything about Christian education -- some of my ideas worked out but lots of stuff was a waste of time. I realized that what I liked might not be what teens and young adult parishioners were looking for," said Bennett.
What Bennett experienced in California led to the launch in 2000 of the seminary's Certificate Program in Youth Ministry and Christian Education. After directing Christian education at All Saints' Church in Austin for 14 years, she was hired to develop training programs for youth ministers and educators at the seminary.
Bennett and five other members of the seminary community created the certificate program to enable lay leaders to come together twice a year for one-week sessions on campus. The program offers instruction, discussion, theological reflection, practical ministry skills, worship and spiritual formation. "Seminary faculty teach the program's courses and the students form a crucial support network they had previously not enjoyed," the news release said.
"A lot of the program's success is due to our faculty who welcome certificate students with open arms. They fan the flames of student's eagerness to learn so they can fulfill their mission to teach our faith," Bennett said. The sessions take place in January and June when regular seminary semester classes are not being held. "The campus is theirs alone and it enhances the sense of shared community. That certificate network of support is available year round to ask questions and receive advice from fellow students throughout the country."
Beth Wyndham, a certificate graduate from the Diocese of Dallas who is now enrolled in the seminary's divinity degree program, described Bennett as "the rare person who welcomes you -- just as you are ... Molly makes you feel like the most important person in the world – she cultivates time and space for you."
Jeannette Hargreaves, who continues in the certificate program while being a master of arts in religion seminarian and youth minister at St. Richard's Church in Round Rock, Texas, said, "In humble friendship, Molly probes the hearts and minds of her students and leads us to a greater understanding of ourselves and God's creation. While she might claim to have humorously stumbled upon this ability, we won't let her deny the impact she has had on our lives and the life of the seminary."
Dr. Jana Strukova, assistant professor of Christian Education and Formation at Southwest, will assume program directorship after the June 7-13 certificate session concludes.
Bennett is looking forward to creating more multimedia art in her retirement years, as well as enjoying more free time with grandchildren.