Church Pastors and Staff
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 oldmission.typepad.com.
Rev. Karen Nyhart, Associate Pastor
Karen was appointed to Old Mission in 2005. She presently serves as Clergy for Christian Education, Evangelism and Care Ministries. 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 teenage children. She enjoys walking, hiking, reading, water aerobics and attending her children’s activities.
Rev. Leslie Van Blarcom, Minister of Visitation
Leslie began her vocational ministry at Old Mission in 1975 in Children's Ministries. 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. She has now returned to "where it all began", working part-time in pastoral care. Leslie believes that relationship is 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. In her free time, Leslie enjoys spending time with her 5 grandchildren, exercising, traveling with her husband, reading and watching reruns of "Law and Order".
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.”
Cassie received a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Psychology and Relgion minor from Park University. She also studied Youth Ministry as an undergrad and is working toward her certification in Youth Ministry. Cassie loves working with middle school students because of their energy and passion. She feels that middle school is an important age group to minister to because they are beginning to find their own faith walk apart from their parents' and trying to figure out what their faith means to them. As the Director of Middle School Ministry, she plans and leads Sunday activities and Bible Studies for the middle school youth and helps coordinate and lead other youth events with the Director of Senior High Youth Ministries. In her free time, Cassie loves to spend time with her daughter, seeing the latest box office hit, bowling, or reading a good book. She is also an avid air hockey player and is always looking for a good challenge.
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.
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 7 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.
When she’s not in the church office, Elizabeth is likely curled up with a good book. She loves reading; the printed page is her stage. Today, Elizabeth pens Old Mission’s weekly newsletter, The Messenger, and prepares the church’s bulletins. You’re also likely hear her friendly voice on the line when you call Old Mission’s office. She has been on staff for more than a decade. “I felt called to serve when I applied for this job, and as long as I can be effective, I hope to continue ministering in my small way to keep things running smoothly and serving the needs of the congregation.”
While taking a Beth Moore Women's Bible Study 'Patriarchs', Annie felt a strong pull and calling to make changes in her career path. After working 10 years in the mental health field, she began to hear God speaking to her to consider serving Him in the church. As the Director of Children's Ministries, Annie oversees Children's Sunday School (2 year olds- 6th grade), various Children's Ministry activities sponsored through the Children's Ministry Council and Safe and Sacred Trainings. Additionally, she works closely with the director of Vacation Bible School and the church Nursery Coordinator.
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.
As the only church in Fairway, Old Mission was easy to find when Charlotte Christiansen moved to the area in 1974 and started looking for a church. She has watched her own granddaughters grow up here. Today her grandmotherly love extends far beyond her own family, encompassing all the church’s wee ones in the nursery. It is “the precious children” that she enjoys most about her ministry.
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 music for 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.
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 nearly 35 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.
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.”
Being involved with music has been part of Terry's life since childhood. Her dad was the choir director and her mom was the organist at the church they attended in Manhattan, Kansas during her younger years. As a teenager, Old Mission’s Director of Bell Ministry fondly recalls many hours spent with friends in UMYF and playing hand bells. Now Terry leads the charge at Old Mission as the director of Spirit Bells.
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.