A Community that Loves a Child

September 9, 2013

The toddler broke free and raced into the gathering, his face red with tears and scrunched up with his cries for his mom. A childcare worker followed behind, reaching for him, but he eluded her grasp. He reached his parents who had stood to meet him, and his mom carried him out, tears and all, until he calmed down. No one knew why he cried. And no one frowned that he had interrupted our worship service. There were only sympathetic smiles and worry over whatever had happened to his little heart to cause such crying. He was welcome there, even loud and crying and interrupting.

It is phenomenal to be a part of a church that so loves children. To be completely fair, every church we have encountered has loved children. The church where I had my first staff position in Nebraska held a Wednesday night event every week that brought in 100 children from the town. That church was only 110 members, so you can imagine how big that was. They loved children. Then there was the church in Illinois with so few children that they loved whenever a child would come, and encouraged the few children we had to be active in various ways- I even had a teenager who preached a sermon one Sunday to get out of a Confirmation paper! They loved children. Even the last church here in Colorado that had the least amount of children of all my churches- they wanted children to be involved in worship and we even had a curriculum writer/author who would write brilliant children’s sermons for me to interact with the 3-4 kids there.

After my son was born, he was baptized in a Presbyterian church. I remember this day acutely. I remember it because it was actually a terrifying day for me. I knew all too well what was happening in those moments. The sacrament of baptism is a giving over. A handing back to God what he gave to us. We are not our own, the Bible croons, we were bought at a price. And that’s the statement of baptism, that God in his grace is reaching toward us, even the youngest among us, and in response to that, we accept that we are not our own. That we belong to Him. And to the Church that is His medium in the world. That Presbyterian church  loved my son. Even though we were not able to stay there for as long as we had hoped to, they welcomed him and loved him into their body. After that, there was the Covenant church we tried to attend for a bit of time that enjoyed my son as he joined them for the first part of worship and then when finished exploring the music and crowd, he would saunter off to the childcare area and play.

But there’s something about the church plant we are currently part of. Every church I’ve encountered has loved children, but at this place, it’s more than just “loving kids.” Children are very much a part of the life and existence of this church.

One of the most nerve racking experiences of my few years in parenthood has been trying to find a church home in this meantime between one church call, parenthood, and new church call. Trying to do so with a baby/toddler has been even harder than I think it might be without a child. I often worried about leaving him in the nursery, but I knew he would make noise in worship. I spent several Sunday mornings outside the sanctuaries with a restless infant or a running toddler until I broke down and put him in the nursery. It’s not that I think someone will abuse him. It’s just that I want my son to know that he is not simply “the future” of the Church. I want him to grow up knowing that he is the Church now.

I don’t want him to feel like his questions, his age appropriate responses- even when he’s wiggly and jumpy- I don’t want him to feel like any of his createdness is a bother. I want him to come to Jesus as a child- even when he’s an adult- because I know how hard it is to do that as a grown up now.

I want him to see me worship and pray and study and wrestle with Scripture. I want him to know which one is Mommy’s bible, and I want to leave notes in there for him to find when I’m gone. I don’t want him thinking that I have all the answers to faith, but I want him to see that I practice at having faith. Whether I am the pastor or not, I want him to see us reading the Bible, to experience the mysteries of the Eucharist, to sing loudly and off beat if he has to. I want him to ask questions about what the preacher said and why the preacher said it that way (even when the preacher is me). I want him to ask the questions that we adults don’t think about. I want him to know he can respond to the music by clapping, standing still, or dancing- however he feels the Spirit lead. I want him to never lose his wonder about Jesus, worship, the sacraments, or the community called Church- no matter how disappointing that community can be sometimes. I want him to belong- fully belong- even as a toddler.

And at this church he does. Our Thursday night home group (officially called a Missional Community) has a lot of children in it. They are noisy and messy. Sometimes they have temper tantrums. Sometimes they spill drinks. Usually as 8:00 pm rolls around, they get noisier and noisier until we adults can barely hear over them. But their presence matters. It makes us feel like an oikos, a familyIt’s real and it’s real life. My son is loved there and accepted and welcomed and even celebrated. I was in awe one night as the group prayed over my two year old, passionately and long. I had to wipe away tears knowing how loved he was by these people who barely know him.

So when this toddler broke into our worship on Sunday, it was just a piece of what it means to be Church. And no one was bothered. No one rolled their eyes. No one wondered why that kid was “misbehaving.” No one judged his parents. His parents, as far as I could see, didn’t cringe or look embarrassed. He was welcomed, red faced tears and all. And then as we moved toward Eucharist, all our children came in and joined us, gathering as groups around the stations of bread and juice. There our children were prayed for by name and with great passion. And then we sang with them. The older kids danced in joy around the sanctuary. They sang- sometimes loud and off key, but they sang with the worship leaders and the congregation, twirling and jumping with overflowing emotion, fully loved and fully safe to be in the presence of God with their church.

It is phenomenal to have found this church, and I hope to one day be back pastoring in a church that already does this sort of soul-care for children, or is eager to learn how.  All of the churches we have experienced have loved my son. But here, I am reminded of the truth that children not simply the future of the Church. They ARE the Church now too. With us. In the presence of Jesus. And we are better for it.

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