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Brenda Gordon, left, poses with Sierra Gustafson after receiving the award.
Inside Story
Photo provided by Jahnnette Brandt

Surprise! Award honors influential children’s minister

Brenda Gordon recognized at the National Children’s & Youth Ministries conference.

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The picture flashed on the big screen, and Brenda Gordon immediately recognized the face.

It was her own.

“It was a shock. That’s what it was,” Gordon said. “I had no idea that anything was going on.”

“It was a shock. That’s what it was. I had no idea that anything was going on.”

People who love Gordon — her husband, Sylvan; her adult daughters, LeAnna Thompson and Audrey White; her spiritual family at the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma; her children’s ministry colleagues and former interns across the U.S. — had kept the secret for months.

The surprise occurred at the recent National Children’s & Youth Ministries conference, known as NCYM, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Colorado Springs. 

Lord willing, Gordon will celebrate 20 years this August as the children’s ministry director for the Edmond church, north of Oklahoma City. 

Even as she recovers from knee replacement surgery, she flew to NCYM. 

Gordon, who taught public school for 21 years before going into full-time ministry, was excited about seeing old friends and attending the sessions.

What she didn’t know was that NCYM leaders planned to honor her with the 2023 Children’s Ministry Award. She figured it out as the video began playing that night, and familiar faces started offering tributes to her.

“Oh, it was just an ugly cry, I tell you,” Gordon said of her response.

They were happy tears.

Jahnnette Brandt, children’s ministry director for the MacArthur Park Church of Christ in San Antonio since 2014, nominated her friend.

Brandt, a former school teacher and administrator herself, recalled that Gordon encouraged her and prayed with her when she made the transition to ministry.

“This lady doesn’t just minister to the littles at church. She helps mentor all the young adults who are considering children’s ministry.”

“What caused me to do the nomination was going to a conference with her,” Brandt said. “We were with a group of children’s ministers, and she just started pointing to several and saying, ‘He was my intern. She was my intern. She was my intern.’ 

“And I thought, ‘This lady doesn’t just minister to the littles at church. She helps mentor all the young adults who are considering children’s ministry.’”

One of those former interns, Sierra Gustafson, presented Gordon with the award.

Gustafson, a 2015 graduate of Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, serves as children’s minister for the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark.

Gordon’s ability to remember all the Edmond children’s names — members and visitors alike — always impressed Gustafson.

Brenda Gordon, left, poses with Sierra Gustafson after receiving the award.

Brenda Gordon, left, poses with Sierra Gustafson after receiving the award.

It’s not just a few names: The large church has 264 children on its roll, from nursery age through sixth grade.

“Kids were just immediately drawn to that about her,” Gustafson said.

At the Edmond church, the children know Gordon as “Ms. Brenda.”

“I always get tickled when some kid will come up to me and call me ‘Mr. Brenda,’” said Sylvan Gordon, an Edmond elder and Brenda’s husband of 44 years.

Children’s ministry assistant Hannah Risley grew up in the Edmond church and joined Brenda Gordon and youth minister John Frias at NCYM.

“I always get tickled when some kid will come up to me and call me ‘Mr. Brenda.’”

“I was actually very proud of our children’s ministry and our church family being able to keep a secret for that long,” Risley said of Gordon’s award.

“But it was actually quite helpful, her being out because of her knee replacement,” added Risley, another former public school teacher. “It allowed us to have the congregation join in with the celebration and write notes for her and draw pictures for her to put into a scrapbook to present to her after her award.”

At this point, I can’t help but point out that Edmond is my home congregation, and Gordon is a special person to my family — as she is to countless others.

My son Brady earned ministry degrees from Oklahoma Christian and Abilene Christian University in Texas. Gordon was the first person to encourage him in that path.

“I’m still thankful for Brenda’s influence and the way she saw potential in me,” Brady said. “Brenda cares deeply for everyone she comes into contact with. It’s inspiring and contagious.”

My wife, Tamie, smiles anytime she mentions Gordon.

Brenda Gordon poses for a picture with Bobby Ross Jr. at the National Children's & Youth Ministries conference in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Brenda Gordon poses for a picture with Bobby Ross Jr. at the National Children’s & Youth Ministries conference in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“When she and I are talking or texting, we refer to each other as ‘Sister’ because that’s what our relationship is,” Tamie said. “We’re sisters in Christ through baptism and sisters in life because we’ve done many years of it together.

“We laugh a lot,” my wife added. “We can be silly or serious, depending on the circumstances. Good, bad, funny, sad, I know I can tell her anything, and she’ll be there for me, whether we’re both wearing a dusting of powdered sugar or sweating in the shade somewhere.”

Congratulations on your award, Ms. Brenda! We are proud of you.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Brenda Gordon Children's ministry Colorado Colorado Springs Edmond Church of Christ Inside Story National National Children's & Youth Ministries NCYM Partners Top Stories

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