Tuesday Greetings! Hope all is well. I want to start off by thanking every person who helped make Trunk or Treat possible. So many people worked together to pull off such an amazing event. We had around 160 people out there, around 30 cars beautifully decorated, and we gathered nearly 100 pounds of canned goods for the Memphis Food Bank! So everyone, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back!
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak during the Parish Hall forum lead by the vestry about "Moving Forward." For those of you who were there, who knew church could be so exciting, right!?
Well, I wanted to take this chance to reiterate some of the things I mentioned and expand on a few concepts that we are really trying to focus on in our youth program.
First off, I read a letter during my presentation, if you missed it or do not remember here it is.
Perspective from the Back of the Church
by Eleanor Michael*
I was asked to write a little bit about St. James's "from the perspective of a parent of young children," but by using my quick, working-mom-style skim email reading technique, I first read the request as "from the perspective...of young children." I quickly realized my mistake, but after some consideration, have decided perhaps that the perspective of my two young children would be more interesting than mine.
To my boys, Nate (4) and Calvin (2), church is:
- Friday night pizza and movies, and Sunday morning snuggles with Maddy and Priscilla;
- making eyes at the ladies in the pews behind us, and eyeing the toys of the kids in the pews in front of us;
- getting "snacks" at communion and dancing to the recessional;
- the all-you-can-eat (before-a-parent-intervenes) Munchkin and lemonade buffet at coffee hour; and
- discussing the intricacies of the latest Cars movie with [the Rev.] Molly Louden.
In a word (or two!), if asked, I think my kids would say that church is about food, and fun.
My husband and I share this sentiment to a certain extent, but to us, church isn't always quite as "fun" as snuggles and Munchkins and dancing. I regularly break a sweat trying to restrain my boys from hurling themselves into the pew behind us, while simultaneously wondering whether this will be the week that someone forgets to "listen to his body" and doesn't quite make it to the bathroom in time. I brace myself during communion (hoping Calvin doesn't feel the need to demand "MORE SNACKS!" from Julia again) and during the collection (praying he doesn't cling to his dollar and yell "MINE!" at the top of his ever-so-strong lungs, as he is wont to do). I am constantly wondering whether I have a dinosaur sticker stuck on my sweater in an inopportune location.
So if church is causing us so much weekly grief, why do we keep going back? Why not wait to become "churchgoing folk" until our kids are old enough to control their bowels, their tempers, and the volume of their voices?
To us, church is about a more sophisticated word (though related to "food" and "fun" in many ways!) that our kids do not yet know. To us, church is about community. Although our kids cannot yet articulate this word, they seem to understand the concept, in large part thanks to our time in the St. James's parish. It is about having a surrogate family when our extended families live far away. It is about having a place and a group of people to begin discussions about other big words, such as faith, love, respect, forgiveness, and social injustice. And of course, it is about pizza, chili, pancakes, brownies, and let us not forget, jambalaya!
To us, church cannot wait because learning to be part of a community cannot wait, and so we force our kids into anything-but-sweatpants week after week, and faithfully occupy our spot in the (easy-escape-route) back of the church, and feel thankful for our blessings, our church community, and our understanding pew neighbors. A few weeks ago the reading from the Holy Gospel seemed especially pertinent, when Jesus said to the twelve disciples:
"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." - Mark 9:30 -37
Thank you to the entire St. James's community, which has welcomed us with open arms.
Now I want to share another story. When i was in high school, I was asked to give a reflection during our Wednesday night worship group. A rather large group at this time as around 30 youth and a handful of adults and parents (who were invited to attend our services whenever possible) gathered as I shared about what keeps me coming back. Was it the events and games? Was it my innate desire to do everything to glorify God? Or was it simply a high schooler who wanted to spend time with his friends. Who simply wanted to be apart of that group.
Another story, this past Happening, one youth shared a story about how he questions his faith. So much so that he struggles to really know what it is that he believes in. He found it hard to get plugged in to too many church like things, but Happening was something he would never miss. He loved the atmosphere, the people.
As someone who had serious doubts about faith as a teen and someone who gave up on faith completely, I can speak to the power of this community. I had given up on this thing known as religion. But my friends went and that was my community, so I went, but didn't care. I had given up on it. But it did not give up on me. No matter how much I didn't want to listen, this group, this atmosphere, this setting drew me back in. Do you know how powerful something must be to take a teenager that doesn't care and to draw them in and make them feel special, important, involved...THAT is the power of this community. That is what church and this youth group is about. A support network, friends that will always be there for you, a place you can go to when you have lost all your faith, and still be accepted.
This letter hits the nail on the head. We know its there, we know where we can find it...buuuut, its Sunday, that's one of the few days I can sleep in....But that means I should go to bed early on Saturday....But......but......but.....
As said on Sunday, in the wise words of teh Rev. Ollie Rencher guarantee, "Just show up."
I guarantee that, especially for youth, if you just show up, you will find a new home in this community. And that will stay with you for a lifetime.
This Sunday is baptism Sunday. My challenge this week is to listen to the words as they are said. Listen to the covenant you agree to be a part of as you say, "We will!" so proudly as we do in the Episcopal church. I say read it, make sense of it, and think about what you are saying.
If you don't mean it, don't say it.
If you say it, do it.