A Final Relfection
This past week I began the journey of shifting into a new phase in my ministry by accepting a call as an Associate Pastor for Congregational Care at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX. This new call necessitates saying goodbye to those at Pinnacle whom I have served with joyfully over the past two years. While I am excited about where God is leading, it breaks my heart to have to leave these dear friends behind.
As I reflect on my time at Pinnacle, I recognize that one of my greatest sources of joy has been working with young families. These families have helped me understand better the particular pressures that they face both in everyday life, and in wanting to raise their children to know and love God. It has also meant spending time with and thinking about children as they grow their faith. Doing so has broadened my ministry perspective and also helped me discover how much I love working with children. I love their little voices, and their sticky fingers, their sweet fierce little hugs, and honest reflections on God. There is a freedom to the love and faith that children offer that we adults have learned to mask.
Last fall after reading a book, “Where is God?” with one of the Pinnacle Preschool classes, a teacher informed me that at lunch one of the little boys in the class stood up at his lunch table, turkey sandwich half bitten and declared with unabashed joy, “Hey guys, God loves us!”
This past week one hundred and fifty little voices filled different parts of the church campus for the church’s annual Vacation Bible School. Dressed in matching red t-shirts, the children traveled from room to room around the campus like pods of flighty little minnows flitting in the sunlight. I taught three days of Bible lessons and we explored different stories in scripture about what it means to be a neighbor. At one point I asked the class of pre-kindergarten children what they thought loving your neighbor as yourself” might mean, and one little girl said, “It means knowing your own feelings and treating others the same.” It’s a pretty wise observation from someone who has yet to go to kindergarten.
Spending time with children has also meant wading into deep water and being prepared to go there with them. Whether it’s burying a beloved pet hamster or saying good-bye to a dying grandparent, or even understanding why their parents are getting divorced, children want to know why? And how? And where? Is it my fault?
Why did Grandpa die?
Where is he going?
Will I ever see him again?
Are there babysitters in heaven?
And as parents and teachers it’s tempting to gloss over it all. To shield them from the sadness and the hospital rooms. But these deep little creatures know better than that. Their imaginations will fill in the details where there are gaps. We need to be prepared to let them see our tears and to hear us say, “I’m sad too.” To let them climb around in hospital beds pointing out catheters, while we explain how sometimes bodies don’t work anymore. We need to be prepared to know life well enough to know that it is sacred, and to know how to grieve well so that they might learn from us.
This year Presbyterian Pastor Aimee Wallis Buchannan died suddenly. Aimee was a gifted pastor who was known for the constant joy her life expressed. Following Aimee’s death, one of my dear friends and ministry colleagues Grier Booker Richards and her three-year old son, Olsen, spent time joyfully playing with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, basketballs, eating cookies, and wearing silly outfits all in celebration of Aimee’s life.
After all, faith isn’t something that we hand to children like passing off a football. Children already have a seed of faith that God has planted in them. It simply needs to be nurtured and grown. And there is plenty of research to support the fact that, for better or for worse, they will model with astonishing clarity the faith lives of the adults who nurture them. And so we as their teachers and guides do not need to be afraid of not knowing all the answers. But we also need to know the stories well enough to get down on the carpet and grapple with them together; to tell the story of Jonah and the Whale and wonder aloud why God might do something like that?
This week a friend of mine posted an interesting blog from Mary Anne McKibben Dana who is a Presbyterian pastor at Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, Va. Her reflections got me not only thinking the joy of sharing ministry with young families at Pinnacle, but thinking once again on the ways that the Church might adapt to growing changes in families and in our culture. In her blog, Dana writes about why she and her church are giving up the old model of Sunday school, a movement that originally began in the 1780s to provide education to children working in factories - children who were not receiving any other formal education.
They are trying new practices that I believe recognize and wrestle with the changing needs of young families in the world we now live. They are thinking about Christian Formation more holistically, rather than shutting kids off in a room somewhere trusting that they will learn everything that they need. They are intentionally creating structures and spaces that foster intergenerational ministry more naturally, and equipping parents -who are the primary religious educators for their children - to grow their children’s faith in the life that they share together at home.
The work of thinking with and about the spiritual life of young families has been life giving to me. I think it is one of the most crucial facets of what the church does, and one of the greatest challenges it faces. Facing that challenge won't be a matter of reshuffling the deck chairs. It is not about games that are more fun or program brochures that are more appealing to younger audiences. Although updates can certainly be helpful! But really it will require a willingness to wade into deep water, taking seriously the task of growing our adult faith (and that is all of us: old and young, children or not) and taking the heart the joy and responsibility of sharing that faith with the generation to come.
Thank you for the joy of sharing life together.
My heart is full and I am grateful.