Two Covenant employees, Billy Streu and Rachael McConnell, will have their last day at Covenant on May 31. Billy is leaving to pursue his master’s in social work. Rachael will move with her family to North Carolina, where she will work in children’s ministry at a new church.
Billy Looks Forward
As Covenant high school seniors graduate and venture on, High School Director Billy Streu joins the kids in pursuing new opportunities. He has been working toward a master’s degree in social work from Texas State University, and this fall he will start his practicum.
“I have been here almost four years,” Billy said, “so I almost see myself as a senior with this graduation class.”
This four-year tenure is actually Billy’s second stint as a Covenant employee. In 2004-5, he served as a Student Ministry intern. “Covenant was pivotal in my spiritual formation during my internship. I was blessed by many members and staff over that time. I loved having the opportunity to return to Covenant to serve as a director. This church will always be very special to me.”
High Points in High School Ministry
Billy has been on numerous mission trips, traveling far away to Belize and staying in town during Love Austin weekends. “I have so many wonderful memories, but I will narrow it to our trip to Colorado this last summer. We had time to debrief over our last evening in Colorado Springs. I was overwhelmed with joy as I listened to the incredible ways that God had moved in the students’ lives over the week.”
Billy said he knew something the kids did not know. “I knew that would be my final summer trip with them. This gave me eyes to see how much these students have grown over the last several years and the incredible ways they follow Jesus. We ended the time singing the song, ‘You’re Beautiful,’ which now will always hold this special memory for me anytime I hear it.”
During much of Billy’s time in Student Ministry, he worked with Whitney Bell; their friendship dates back to college. “My best memory of working with Billy was just our sense of team,” recalled Whitney. “Everything we did, we partnered in. From planning games to coordinating retreats, we were a team and constantly supported each other. I loved being on trips together and getting to see each other shine. I loved planning games and laughing so hard in our office that Billy would cry. I loved watching our families grow together. It was the best!”
Covenant member Meredith Weatherby’s three children have been part of high school ministry with Billy. “Thanks, Billy,” she said, “for the love and care of each of my children, for how special you made each of them feel and how known they felt because of you.”
Her daughter Lael, a college freshman who interned with Billy last summer, added, “Billy has been one of the most influential people in this time of my life.”
In a video made for Billy by new Middle School Director Jake Pluenekke, sophomore Anna McClellan said that for the students, Billy has been “the light in our lives, the sun on our cloudy days. He knows what to say to bring us up if we’re down, to be there for us.”
Sophomore Olivia Alejandre agreed. “Every time anybody walked in, Billy would yell their name and be so excited to see them and make them feel loved. He showed the youth what it’s like to be the hands and feet of Christ.”
Said Student Ministry intern Marjon Ahmadien, “I’m so grateful that I got to have the coolest first boss ever!”
Next Stop: Social Work
Whitney had a front-row seat to Billy’s ride at Covenant, which was made sweeter by their history. “We have been friends since 1998. It has been the best gift to be on staff together and to work so closely. Billy has grown in ways I never imagined – both personally and in ministry. Watching him discover his passion of social work has been such a joy,” Whitney said.
Billy will bring wisdom from four years at Covenant to his social work. “Covenant has shown me how important diversity is within a community of faith. Our church has a beautiful blend of views and thoughts politically, theologically, and more. I believe we have learned well how to truly worship and follow Jesus together, even while holding different views and perspectives that easily divide our society today,” Billy said.
These lessons will be part of what forms Billy as a social worker. “I look forward to diving deeper into the social work field. I truly love the concept of financial social work, which would place me in a position to continue the work of tackling the economic injustices in our society, such as extreme economic inequality.”
Billy expects challenges in the coming months as he balances his practicum, schoolwork and employment. “I would appreciate prayers for God’s guidance and open doors as I obtain this degree.”
Good-bye Six Feet Apart …
Billy has struggled a bit with leaving during this time of social distancing. “My heart has grown attached in so many ways over these last four years, and it feels like I don’t get to truly say goodbye.
“Words truly cannot express my gratitude for the students and their families. They all mean the world to me. They have loved my family and me well, and we are forever grateful. I will miss serving in this role.”
Whitney hit the nail on the head when she described Billy. “The best thing about Billy is his tender heart. Billy feels so deeply. He sees hurt and sorrow in people and goes right to it. This is a strong trait in Billy as a friend and person, but what made him so good at ministry (was) his heart. Also, his laugh!”
Rachael’s Cross-Country Move
Almost lifelong Texan Rachael McConnell is moving to Raleigh, North Carolina! In three years at Covenant, Rachael has covered a lot of territory. When she started in August 2017, she was Associate Director of Children and Family Ministry. This winter, as she neared the completion of her ordination process, she switched jobs, becoming our Congregational Care Intern.
Rachael takes away many lessons. “In the Children and Family Ministry, I was reminded of the beauty of the faith of a child,” she said. “Children are not observers of our faith and practices, they are active participants in their own relationship with God. “I had the absolute privilege to serve alongside, guide, love and nurture some amazing children!
“I also learned that communication is key to creating a community. I worked with two fantastic communicators: Christy Milam and Elizabeth Moore. I loved being a part of their team. They have cultivated and equipped a wonderful ministry that is incomparable to any that I have seen (and our family has visited a lot of churches!).”
Director of Children and Family Ministry Christy Milam said that she, Rachael and Elizabeth, Childcare Coordinator, experienced a lot of joy and laughter. “I will always remember that we had the most fun office when we three shared the same space.”
Rachael took advantage of a short amount of time in Congregational Care. “To learn from and serve with Jill Williams has been so enriching to my education in preparing to be a pastor, as well as to my soul,” Rachael gushed. “Jill is so gifted in caring for the needs of others.”
During the congregation’s time apart this spring, Rachael has been busy checking in with and praying for Covenant members. “Listening is such a vital part of ministry to others. It is powerful to be heard and it is powerful to receive someone’s story. If I am ever having a low moment, speaking with our members always builds me back up. I have been so inspired by the resilience and faithfulness of the saints of Covenant,” Rachael said.
It’s impossible for Rachael to highlight one lasting memory from Covenant; instead she’s got many. “There are the memories of watching people that you care for in significant moments like baptism and first grade bibles, and wonderful mornings of worship. There’s the feeling of peace that comes over you on the first day of Vacation Bible School because all of the hard work has come to fruition in this beautiful, busy, dynamic day.”
Rachael continued, “There were the quiet, meaningful conversations and times of prayer that I have had with dear friends in doorways, classrooms and in the office, and any time the church family was visiting and caring for our family while our son Nathan was in the NICU.”
Another high point has been Rachael’s family participation in the Hanging of the Green for two years. “Watching my kids be loved so well by their leaders as well as the community has been really meaningful. God’s providence and goodness have been so evident that it is so hard to pin down one memory.”
“In whatever situation she’s in,” Christy said, “Rachael wants to help others, to be an encouragement to others. That speaks a lot about her heart.”
North Carolina and Beyond!
During her time at Covenant, Rachael has been taking the steps to become an ordained pastor. She received her seminary degree in 2017. Earlier this month, she completed her final assessment with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, and she may now start pursuing ordained positions.
Once she and her kids make the move to Raleigh (her husband started a job there last fall), she will be the Director of Children’s Ministry at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church. Isaac and Esmond, the two oldest McConnell boys, will attend magnet schools in Raleigh. Her parents, who will make the move with the family, will care for her two younger sons.