Rodger moved to rural Montrose with his wife Sandra and their infant son, in August of 1969. Zion’s Pastor Cornell had agreed in October to baptize the baby, but passed away that week from a sudden heart attack, so Thornton was baptized by a substitute pastor. The Hessedals became members of Zion in 1970, shortly before Pastor Blair became Zion’s pastor.
Sandie actually became involved in activities at Zion before I did as she helped with some youth activities and was in the choir.
Rodger was recruited as a substitute Sunday school teacher in 1978 by Darrell and Karleen Anderson. At that time there were almost 400 Sunday school students from three-year-olds to ninth grade, and classes were held at 8:45am and 10am. Zion was located in town (in the building now occupied by the Assembly of God congregation) and classes met in the ‘Sunday School addition,’ which had recently been completed, and in the church basement.
He became a 5th grade teacher in the 1979-80 school year, and has taught 5th or combined 5th and 6th grade classes during the later worship service since that time.
I believe that God calls us to share His word, and in particular the Gospel of Jesus, with our children.
Rodger finds that time spent preparing lessons and answering the students’ questions to be personally beneficial and sanctifying.
Over the years, Rodger worked alongside many volunteer superintendents including Darrell Anderson, Frank Pfeifer, Sue Marsh, Sally Swanson, Cheryl Mager, and many others. Rodger remembers when Becky Hokenson started her position as Zion’s first paid Director of Youth and Education. For several years one staff person was responsible for both children’s ministry and youth ministry.
Paul [Harmon, youth director from 1982-1984] was the person who pushed for the separation of the youth positions and under his direction a job description was drafted for the Christian Education Coordinator [which was first filled by Julie Kassulke].
When Rodger first started teaching Sunday school, the congregation was much smaller, so the classes were smaller and he was able to get to know more of the parents. Fire drills were held each year during class. Perfect attendance and faithful attendance (missing no more than three Sundays) used to be very important. Pins were awarded at the end of the year, and many students would report attendance at another church if they went out of town.
I remember the antics of a 5th grade boy who would hide in the upper shelf in the bedroom of the old parsonage (which was being used as a classroom); a student who didn’t respond much until one of the last sessions, which involved art, and then he really shined; and the differences between classes, especially that the girls were usually ahead of the boys, but once in a while there would be a class where the boys were ahead.
Around 1988, Roger worked with Ken Ogden, Marcia Wold, Joel Squadroni, and Kim Gleason on curriculum for 5th grade communion instruction which was based on Luther’s Small Catechism, Welcome to the Lord’s Table by Augsburg, and The Lord’s Supper: a Lutheran Heritage Booklet by Augsburg.
Rodger has also been involved with junior high (and more recently middle school) canoe trips since they began around 1987.
I have been very blessed to have been able to work in the different areas of ministry to youth at Zion. May God receive the Glory for all efforts; He is the one who calls us, and gives us the faith to accept His salvation in Jesus. May we remember that the children are His before they are ours.