Dr. Michael Gardner, Senior Pastor
Old Mission's senior pastor grew up in the Hyde Park area of Kansas City, and after a brief detour into small town living during his High School years, the Kansas City area has always been home. He served two previous appointments as Lead Pastor in Western Shawnee and Olathe, and also churches in Coffeyville and Dodge City. His previous eight years before Old Mission were spent as Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church in downtown Wichita, where his messages reached up to 30,000 viewers a week through their television ministry at KAKE-TV. Mike has degrees from Baker University, St. Paul School of Theology and an earned doctorate from Drew University. Mike has been married to Ann, the love of his life, since 1978, and they have four adult children, and nine grandchildren. Mike and Ann live not far from Old Mission in old Leawood. Mike's life verse for forty years is Matthew 5:16; "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." You can find out more about his thoughts on life and faith in Dr. Gardner's blog at mikesblog.org.
Rev. Karen Nyhart, Associate Pastor
Karen was appointed to Old Mission in 2005. She presently serves as Clergy for Christian Education and Welcome. Karen received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Olivet Nazarene University and a degree in Christian Education from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. She was ordained in 2003. Prior to serving at Old Mission, Karen served at Keller UMC in Texas for seven years. Karen spends much of her leisure time with her husband Scott and her three adult children. She enjoys walking, hiking, reading, water aerobics and attending her children's activities.
Rev. Leslie Van Blarcom, Minister of Congregational Care
Leslie began her vocational ministry at Old Mission in 1975 in Children's Ministry. She left Old Mission at the end of 1988 and served for 20 years at Shawnee United Methodist as Associate Minister where she worked in Christian Education, Pastoral Care and Mission. We are delighted that in 2012, Leslie returned to the ministry staff of Old Mission, working part-time in pastoral care and congregational care ministries. Leslie believes that relationships are the heart of ministry and this position gives her great opportunity to be a caring presence for members of the Old Mission community in times of need. Leslie regularly leads in worship and also supervises our Congregational Care Ministers. In her free time, Leslie enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren, exercising, traveling with her husband Cliff, reading and watching reruns of Law and Order.
Rev. Debbie Hull Minister to Children and Families
I am a native Kansan born and raised in Wichita. I graduated from WSU with a B.A. in Elementary education. I taught for one year and was a substitute for several years. I moved to Colorado and worked for a magazine and book distributor. It was in Colorado that I received my call into ministry, specifically Christian Education and Youth Ministry. I knew from the very beginning I was being called to be a Deacon serving children and youth. I attended Iliff Seminary and received the Master of Arts and Religion degree. I was ordained in 2005 in the Rocky Mountain Conference. I worked for the First United Methodist Church in both Glenwood Springs and Greeley, CO. I moved to Lee’s Summit in January 2016, to be closer to my family. I look forward to serving this congregation and seeing where God will lead us in the coming future.
Michele Bowen, Assistant Director of Children's Ministries
Three-year-olds have been learning about Jesus from "Miss Michele" for more than 20 years. In fact, there's hardly a child at Old Mission who doesn't know Michele. She showers the wee ones with love, calling each and every child by name - whether they've been there one Sunday or 100. She sees God's spirit in the children of Old Mission. "It's so important to get the children excited about Jesus - to teach them that He never lets us down or disappoints us - everyone else will, but not Him!" Michele's passion for prayer has also made her the go-to person for the church's prayer chain, and she started Old Mission's prayer shawl ministry which combines her hobby of knitting with prayer for others. Finally, she is also responsible for our Membership and Attendance systems and keeping us on track.
Mike Ott, Director of Youth Ministry, Worship Band Administrator
Kids will be kids and Mike is definitely a kid at heart. Luckily, he has also got the energy to match that of Old Mission's youth. A member of the church since age 8, Mike became Youth Director in July of 2007, growing the program steadily each year. About the Old Mission Youth, Mike says, "They're very caring and love helping others. They're always ready to talk to me about how their week is going, what's going on in school, etc. It feels great not only to connect with, but to help guide a younger generation."
Jordan Larkin, Assistant Director of Youth Ministries
Jordan is one of Old Mission's new college interns. He is a student of Philosophy at the University of Missouri Kansas City. Jordan's ultimate goal is to work in some field of ministry and he is grateful for the opportunity to explore and discern his path here at Old Mission. Jordan serves the church by working with the youth group, helping with Sunday school and assisting in youth lead worship service. He enjoys reading, writing, playing sports, carpentry and above all any opportunity to learn.
Merit Christensen, Intern, Youth Ministries
Merit is a college intern for Old Mission UMC, and is so excited to be working with the youth ministry! She has worked in ministry before through Happening Ecumenical. She is double majoring in music education and voice performance at UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. Merit is a Kansas City native who hopes to someday teach choir, continue performing musical theatre and theatre, and work with a church choir and worship team. She enjoys reading, writing stories and music, singing, acting, ultimate frisbee, and playing guitar.
Larry Bentson, Business Manager
He's sort of like the Wizard of Oz. You may not see him often, but behind the scenes Larry Bentson keeps very busy. He keeps the finances in order, pays the bills, processes the payroll and generates financial reports for Old Mission. Larry helped to bring members the option of direct deposit for their contributions. He's also helped to reduce costs by implementing electronic financial statements for people who wish to receive updates by e-mail.
Gay Ecton, Office Administrator
Members, visitors and friends who have filed in and out of the doors at Old Mission for years have come to know Gay Ecton's smile and "can-do" attitude as a reflection of the church itself. She has been a member of Old Mission for more than four decades. She began working in the church office in 1987. Then in 1995, she moved to the role of Office Administrator. There was a seven year period of time that she and her husband Reid lived in California. As soon as they were back home, she picked up right where she left off as Office Administrator. "I like the idea that I support clergy, staff and members in their ministry. Old Mission is a caring community, offering opportunities to serve others," she says.
Amy Hernandez-Zoellner, Director of Communications & Connections
Amy serves as the creative source for various communications platforms. She also enjoys meeting with and connecting new members to Old Mission's vast ministry opportunities. She was raised in Wamego, KS and after high school, moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She received a Bachelor's Degree in French Language from Concordia University (Montreal, QC). She is a talented musician and enjoys volunteering with Cleaver Family YMCA in her free time. Amy and her husband Martin have two sons.
Karen Eisele, Director of Worship Arts
Karen is the primary coordinator of worship, music and the arts at Old Mission. She is known by Old Mission members for her outgoing and warm smile and boundless energy. In addition to coordinating traditional and contemporary worship, Karen is the worship leader at the 9:45 a.m. contemporary worship service. Karen also coordinates children's music in Sunday School, with volunteers, and directs Old Mission's one-of-a-kind Vacation Bible School program each summer. "I love planning worship where people connect to God through music and drama and the arts", she says. "Whether it's designed for children or adults, I enjoy the creative process of praying and studying to design worship that pleases God and speaks to those who participate." Karen works closely with our Senior Pastor in the design of worship.
Sarah Hill, Worship Arts Associate and Director of the Spirit Bells
Most Sunday mornings you'll find Sarah at the piano or behind a guitar, leading the worship band during the contemporary service. Despite the stage fright, she loves using her musical gifts to worship with the congregation at Old Mission. Sarah joined the worship band as a volunteer in 2006 playing the keys as a sub, and is still a little mystified that she's now a director of several of our music ensembles. In addition to being in corporate worship, Sarah feels her calling is to facilitate others' musical expression and growth, especially youth. In addition to leading the worship band, and directing the Spirit Bells, Sarah works with youth grades 6-12 in the youth band and also in special solos and ensembles, the strings ensemble, and Easter orchestra. She says, "I feel blessed to be working and worshiping at Old Mission, where great music, traditional or contemporary, is just part of our DNA." Sarah and her husband, Nick, have a daughter and son who consider Old Mission to be their home away from home.
Brett Eichman, Music and Worship Arts Assistant
Brett and his wife, Emilyjane joined Old Mission when they moved to the Kansas City area after college, and both have become active in our ministries. Brett graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in Music Education. He is currently teaching music in the Shawnee Mission Northwest Area Schools. Several of our students know him as Mr. Eichman, the band teacher. He has become a great addition to our ministry staff team and both he and Emilyjane bless us with their music. Brett and Emilyjane are the proud parents of twin children James and Juliet. We hope that you make time to become acquainted with the Eichmans and express your appreciation for Brett and Emilyjane’s many talents.
Betty Leonard, Early Education Center Director
Teaching children has been a lifelong dream of Old Mission's Early Education Center Director, who has been a part of the childcare center for more than 40 years. While the center's national accreditation is a clear indication that Old Mission is dedicated to providing quality care for kids, Betty Leonard says it's the family atmosphere that really sets the church's program apart.
Tom Gifford, Chancel Choir Director
When Tom Gifford walked into Old Mission about ten years ago and heard the bell choir perform at a Sunday morning service, he knew he had found a new church home. His lifelong love of music lead him to become Old Mission's Chancel Choir Director. Tom was no stranger to the job; he spent years watching his mother in her role as the bell choir director and youth choir director in Nebraska. "Music is one of the most powerful ways God can speak with us," he says. "Conversely, music is one of the best ways we can communicate with God."
Gloria Slagle, Organist
The organ is music to her ears. For over 50 years, Old Mission's Organist has elicited sweet sounds from the church's pipe organ. In fact, Gloria Slagle is an institution at Old Mission, much like the beautiful instrument she has played week after week, year after year, decade after decade. Gloria is the only full-time organist who's played the pipe organ that's graced the church's sanctuary for over 40 years.