Ambitious college students juggle many pursuits. A social life, a part time job, course work and .. preaching?
Nyla Witzel, a junior at Peru State College, is probably among the small number of students who want to also take on a flock of Methodists for almost three months when she could be resting or pursuing other goals, and while she also is nearly overloaded with studies.
A 2015 graduate of East Butler, she is an elementary education major with minors in psychology and organizational leadership and global issues.
Back home she belongs to the Brainard United Methodist Church, probably one of the smallest churches in the area, she and her family have long been devoted to their faith. The Brainard church, a close-knit congregation, is accustomed to spreading the work around. Perhaps that explains how Witzel became a certified lay servant as a senior at East Butler, and has continued taking courses required by the church conference.
Witzel was working at Camp Fontanelle last summer when she was asked about filling in for Pastor Emily Cannon at the at Auburn United Methodist Church, a big brick structure still emblazoned with the historic “Auburn M.E. Church” sign above its door.
Witzel is the daughter of Leo and Kathy Witzel.
“I talked to many people, pastors, and friends about whether I should accept the position or not. After a lot of thought and prayer, I told my pastor in August that I would do it for her,” Witzel said.
It seemed like the position wasn’t going to workout when Witzel was broke her left ankle and right foot in an accident.
“I was extremely frustrated with everything that was occurring in my life and didn’t know if I would be able to go and talk about my faith for 11 weeks,” she said. “I was definitely struggling at this point in my life both physically, while trying to get around on two walking boots as well as emotionally, because of the small challenges I was facing everyday due to my accident.”
She didn’t want to let her pastor down, so she accepted the position, and her group of supporters helped her along the way. She also had her role as high school Sunday School teacher to stay involved. The role of lay leader wasn’t completely new because she had provided “pulpit supply” at a number of different churches.
“I had always had the guide of what the pastor had been talking about to go off of to create my sermon rather than having to select everything for myself and come up with sermon topics to talk about on my own entirely,” she said. Among the tough surprises: The time commitment involved.
“However, to me, I don’t mind putting in all of the extra time because it is worth it to see how much I am impacting the congregation,” she said.
Average attendance is 60 to 70 at the church. The congregation has been encouraging because members know Witzel is also a full-time student.
I also really enjoy working with all of the little children as well as my high school youth group,” she said. “I was a little nervous of how the congregation would respond considering I am so young as well as female. I know that having female in the pulpit can be an area of controversy but this congregation has accepted me and seems to really enjoy having me in the pulpit.”
Some of the members have even asked her about when she’s going into the ministry, “which is extremely humbling to hear and feel that they have the confidence in me.”
While most students build a wider circle of friends at college, Witzel’s circle includes the campers at Camp Fontanelle. Her sermons also stream on Facebook, so she’s getting plenty of feedback.
Without the help of Dr. Gina Bittner and Professor Danny Hayes, she said, she wouldn’t be taking so many credit hours as well as providing pulpit supply.
“I definitely would not be able to do it without all of the amazing people in my life and I truly owe my credit to them,” she said.
The future? She looks forward to graduating in December 2019 with a major and two minors.
“I might just start teaching in an upper elementary classroom right away, while I decide what to get my master’s degree in. I am considering teaching abroad for a year or two right after college. I am also considering working in a prison system either in prison education or in prison ministry,” she said. “I’m just trying to go with the flow and take it one day at a time and trust that opportunities will arise just as this one did of preaching for 11 weeks in a United Methodist Church.”
Witzel’s assignment will soon be over, and she comes out of it a different person.
“This has definitely helped my faith grow as well as helped me grow as a person,”she said. “I have enjoyed my time getting to be involved in the church, the community, and even the Nemaha County Ministerial Association.”
She wouldn’t do it the same way over again.
“I would definitely lighten my credit load and not try and take almost two semesters worth of classes in one semester,” she said.