For The Dialog
LEWES – Pam Becker never envisioned that she would become a religious education director for a new parish in an area where she once vacationed.
But life is full of twists and turns, and this month Becker retires after 14 years as religious education director at St. Jude the Apostle Parish. As she sat in the well-appointed office reserved for the director in the church’s Religious Education Center – itself only a vision when St. Jude, previously a mission of St. Edmond in Rehoboth Beach, became an independent parish.
She never applied for the position. Father James Hreha, founding pastor of St. Jude, approached her and asked if she would be interested.
“It took me a month to give him an answer,” Becker recalled. “I had no background in religious education, other than being a catechist (as the church calls its religious formation teachers) for 10 years.”
Father Hreha had asked both Sister Eileen Lally, a previous religious education director at St. Edmond, and Jerry Bradley, then the director, for suggestions. “Both said there would be no better (one) than Pam Becker,” Father Hreha said. “I prayed over those recommendations and was very peaceful with them.”
The results have been good. “We’ve developed a center for faith in our local area,” Father Hreha said. He attributes much of that to Becker’s work, not only with school-year based religious education class for children but with adult education as well.
The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults under Becker expanded to a year-round program. The Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in the parish chapel has been incorporated into the children’s and RCIA programs.
St. Jude offers year-round adult education programs, some of which catechists attend for ongoing formation requirements.
Now St. Jude is at another crossroads. On June 24 Father Hreha becomes pastor at St. Polycarp in Smyrna; Father Thomas Flowers will become pastor of St. Jude. Becker’s retirement is effective the end of this month; Deacon Scott Landis will succeed her. Only one member of the original staff remains.
But the new staff has much more to work with than when Becker was hired.
Back then, she shared a 12-by-12 office with her secretary and the music minister in a parish office building constructed on the grounds along with a rectory for Father Hreha. That building today houses the daily Mass chapel and Perpetual Adoration.
The first year St. Jude and St. Edmond combined their religious education classes. That was cumbersome, especially with second grade classes to prepare for reconciliation and first Communion.
“I wanted to create a sense of community,” Becker said, even though the parish had no facilities other than the church, rectory and office building. She organized four or five activities each year at the Lewes Community Center to help build a separate parish identity.
St. Jude continued to use St. Edmond’s facilities for the next four years but had to move its classes to two Sunday night and one Monday night session.
At the time she was starting to build a program, all Becker knew of religious education was from her work as a catechist. She needed to work on a master’s degree in religious education as well.
“I was starting over at 51 – that was hard.”
She earned her master’s in 2006 through an online program with Felician College in New Jersey.
The next year the program she headed finally had a home, with the opening of the Religious Education Center, as well as a parish hall.
While Becker oversaw the religious ed program, she developed her own spirituality. While studying at Felician she realized something was missing from her life. She discovered Carmelite spirituality at a catechetical conference in Ocean City, Md., and became a third-order Carmelite in 2013.
There were other personal milestones during her time as religious education director.
When her father turned 80, she asked, “Dad, have you thought about becoming Catholic?”
At 83, he became Catholic as a member of St. Jude’s first RCIA class. Her husband, Ken, also became Catholic. Her daughter, Katie, joined the Chemin Neuf Catholic ecumenical community in England.
Becker and her husband will snowbird in the winter in Naples, Fla., but otherwise plan to stay in Lewes. Their son, Paul, and her mother still live in the area.
The Beckers’ ties to the area predate their move here.
Some 35 years ago a man started talking with Becker and her sister, who were on vacation in Rehoboth Beach. He suggested they go on a double-date with him and a friend. The sisters accepted.
Both couples married, Pam and Ken Becker in 1982. Seven years later the couple and their children moved to Lewes. They began attending St. Jude.
That double date was the first turn in a life journey that brought Pam Becker not only to Lewes but also to religious education.