Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Why Church? Part Three: "For the Kids"

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

When my kids hear that it's Sunday morning and we'll be going to church, they actually both cheer loudly at the breakfast table. They love church. I think part of what they love is the ritual of it.

For Lyle, the ritual is quite simple. We sign him in and go to the toddler room, where he gets to "play trucks" with Noah, color, listen to a story, eat some rice cakes for snack, and then get picked up. He loves going up to the parish hall for treats at the end and running around with Baxter and our friends.

For Baxter, the ritual is more complex. He starts off with us in the sanctuary, where he takes great pride in knowing what to expect. Baxter is a huge fan of the "Spirit of Life" hymn that we sing every week (text above) and opens his hymnal to the memorized page as soon as he sits down. He has learned that we usually sing something else before his favorite, and so he diligently looks for the hymn number in the bulletin, finds it in what I like to call our "hippie hymnal", and marks the page with the bulletin. But he keeps the page open to "Spirit of Life", and I think that's because this is the best part of the ritual for him. At a certain point in the service, the children are invited to gather up front to listen to a story that is related to the sermon's theme, and then they are "sung out" to their Sunday school classes to a few rousing choruses of "May peace surround you, may love surround you, as you go on your way..."

While Baxter sings, listens to the story, and walks back out past us to go to his class, he beams with happiness. This kid just eats the whole thing up, and seems to love every minute of it.

He is part of the Spirit Play class, which is described fully here (scroll down to the bottom of the page if you want the shorter version). Essentially, it is based on the Montessori method of teaching. A story is presented, the children discuss it, and then they move on to do their own chosen "work". But what I love best about the church program is that the Sunday school teachers do not hand the children a plate of answers - a "this is what you are required to believe" speech - but rather, encourages them to question, question, and question, in order to eventually develop their own path to truth. Now that's a Sunday school that I can get behind.

Also, like the adult version of church going on in the sanctuary, the children are constantly encouraged to think beyond themselves. They too have a collection, although I should say that any children who don't bring a few coins to add are invited to "blow a wish" into the collection plate, which is lovely.

One of my favorite moments since joining our church was the conversation we had with Baxter when it came time for the annual vote on how the kids wanted to spend this money they had donated. Half goes to the church, and they had a choice about whether to put it towards the new garden or to redesign the older kids' space. Baxter quickly decided on the garden, because "Giving it for the big kids' classroom seems silly - that's just decorations - but we should make the garden better because that's something we can do for the whole earth. That's more important."

The harder part for Baxter was to determine how to spend the other half of the children's fund. He had to choose from three worthy causes; after each one he said, "Well, yes, we should do that one! Of course!" We had a great conversation about the fact that we feel that way, too. There are so many people who need our help, so many important organizations to give money and help to, but we just have to choose; it's very difficult. It was really interesting and meaningful to sit with him and have this conversation, and listen as he wrestled with which organization was the best one to choose and why.

The things he's learning at church are very well aligned with what Matt and I believe and want to instill in the boys. But like all of the other things I seem to appreciate most about this experience, church is making this too happen in a bigger, more regular, and very real way.

[Here I will end my fabulous "Why Church?" mini-series. Of course there's more to say, but I think I've written about the big stuff now. But have no fear, faithful readers, I'm sure I'll yammer on about the impact of adding a bit o' spirituality to our lives again from time to time.]


Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing a mom's perspective on church and children's spiritual development. One of my projects this year as Director of Children's Worship & Arts at First Church, Cambridge, is to create a blog-like page on our website for parents - now I have to learn how to link to your Why Church? series!

Two books you should check out:

"In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice" by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore

"Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children's Spiritual Lives" by Karen Marie Yust

Jordan said...

Hey, Sarah! Thanks for the book recommendations, I'll definitely look into them. Maybe they're even in our church library (or should be!). I'll be happy to send you the Why Church? series in another format or help you link to it for your site - I could also rework it so it's more general and not as focused on my particular church, if you want.

For those of you who don't know Sarah, she is my best friend from childhood, and, in fact, we met at the church I mentioned going to as a pre-teen and teenager. It's no coincidence that she has this important role at a Congregational church in MA and that I'm here in Chicago writing about the importance of finding a similar church for my family. There are some former youth group leaders out there who would be very happy!

Cara said...

This has been great, Jordan. I have passed this on to Michael as something he needs to read, and I am sure it will be passed on to others at Meadville as well. I won't see you there this weekend, but look forward to the weekend after. I'll be the *other* one crying in the back! :-)