By Kara Witherow, Editor
Amy Utley is, in her own words, unique for a church worker. She didn’t grow up attending church and didn’t open a Bible until she was 25. But when she finally did, it ignited a passion for church work, service and Biblical education that recently culminated in her professional certification in Christian education.
A family friend gave Utley, the director of Christian education at Skidaway Island United Methodist Church in Savannah, a Bible when she was in high school, and even though she never opened it, it always stayed with her. It sat in a box, on the top shelf at the back of her closet, until she opened it one day, looking for direction and guidance.
“It was God doing for me what I didn’t know to do for myself,” she said. “God just intervened and provided guidance that day and I decided to get it down and open it. I opened it to the gospel of John and then the book of James, and between the two of those I thought, ‘This is great grace and instruction,’ and I was hooked from there.”
Utley developed a deep passion for scripture and Biblical education, and that passion led to her pursuit of a professional certification in Christian education, which she received at the 2011 Annual Conference session, held in Tifton this past June.
“I had a passion for wanting to know what I had missed out on learning all those years,” said Utley, who has an English degree. “I love scripture and I believe that it holds great direction and practical guidance for life.”
After participating in numerous Bible studies and a book club and volunteering with the church’s children’s ministry, Utley realized that she was developing a professional passion for Christian education and wanted to expand her knowledge. Not yet sure of exactly where or what ministry God was calling her to, she wasn’t ready to enroll in seminary but knew she was interested in learning more than what basic Bible studies could offer and that she wanted to learn more on a professional level.
After searching for more than a year for solid, professional-level coursework without fully enrolling in seminary, Utley discovered eChristianEd. A web-based training for Christian educators, the program is offered through annual conferences, colleges or churches. Successful completion of all six courses fulfills the academic requirements for United Methodist professional certification in Christian Education through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
In order to be eligible to pursue professional certification, Utley had to take all six classes offered: Biblical and Theological Foundations for Ministry, Foundations for Christian Education, Children's Ministries, Youth Ministries, Adult Ministries and Family Ministries. After she completed the coursework, she had to go through another series of steps, including a background check and an interview by the Board of Ordained Ministry.
“These courses really are an outstanding way to become equipped for excellence in leadership in the church at a lay or staff level,” Utley said. “I feel like I have trained to be a leader rather than just having been a passive learner. The well-rounded nature of the coursework … has equipped me to be confident in my leadership and provide sound resourcing and sound leadership in a variety of areas of ministry. It was ‘practical divinity’ at its best.”
In her role as director of Christian education, Utley oversees Skidaway Island UMC’s entire Christian education program, but her role is not just limited to Sunday school classes and curriculum. She also serves as the church’s liaison to the United Methodist Women and to missions, and she teaches the children’s sermon and serves as an adviser to the youth ministry.
Her coursework and subsequent certification have given her the education, training and confidence to better equip and serve Skidaway Island UMC’s congregants.
“It was a wonderful, solid, very well-rounded course of education,” she said. “It’s really enabled me to better serve our congregation.”