An Open Letter to Parents About What Children Learn from Being Part of a Church
As a mother of two twenty-something children, I have been thinking quite a bit about the experiences I was able to provide them growing up. As a parent of adult children, I delight in seeing how my girls are becoming comfortable in their skin and navigating the complexities of adulthood. I marvel at their maturity, tenacity, and deep faith. I recently realized one of the best gifts I was able to give them was the experience of life in the Church. At each age, they learned valuable lessons that equipped them in their relationships with themselves, others, and the Divine.
In the early years
Before they were even born, people in the church prayed for and celebrated their arrival.
At their baptisms, the church promised to support their parents in raising them in the faith.
As squirming, sometimes screaming toddlers, they learned that even if dad took them out of the sanctuary for a moment, they would return to experience the music, the flow, and rhythm of a worship service.
They experienced a sense of the Holy before they could fully understand or articulate what it meant to be in the presence of God.
In the grade school years
Members of the church introduced them to Bible stories through Vacation Bible School songs, Sunday School classes, children's sermons, and Christmas pageants.
They discovered they were never too young to volunteer. If they asked how they could help, people would take them up on the offer. Whether it was pulling weeds on a clean-up day or pulling the wagon to deliver the chicken from the fry shack to the fellowship hall where paying customers were waiting for their meals—they could share in the work.
They learned how to strike up conversations as they sat at fellowship tables with church members.
In the mid-school years
They got comfortable with public speaking through reading scripture, participating in plays and skits, and sharing their confirmation faith presentation in worship.
They experienced the joy and comfort of having older adults in the congregation that became like additional grandparents.
In the beginning stage of awkward adolescence, they felt seen and accepted in the church in a way they didn't always feel at school.
In the high school years
They unplugged for a week or two on mission trips. These trips took them out of their comfort zone as they stayed in unfamiliar spaces and places, worked with their hands, and came home with a different perspective and appreciation for their life.
Through leadership roles in the church, they developed organizational skills and a sense of how broader systems fit together.
In their teenage years, it was in the church that they learned life's complex realities. Death is a part of life and can happen unexpectedly, even to young people. They experienced the church as a human institution, and as such, people (even highly respected leaders) are fallible. And even though people try to bring their best selves to church, their worst selves often come out at church.
As young adults
My girls now realize that the things that come naturally (and one might take for granted) are byproducts and gifts of being raised in the church.
They know how to relate to people of every age.
They know how to work hard and contribute to the whole.
They know everyone has a unique God-given gift to share--gifts that the world needs.
They know that when someone dies, if possible, you go to the funeral or send flowers or a card to show this person's life mattered.
They know everyone will face difficult times.
They know everyone will make mistakes, but no one should be judged and remembered for their worst decision.
They know the Church is not God, and the Church is an imperfect place where God's perfect grace can be experienced.
The world is full of quirky people (including themselves) whom God created and in whom God takes delight.
They know they can make a difference in the world by doing small things with great love.
They know that faith will carry them through whatever disappointment or crisis they face.
Ultimately, they know that God's love can be stronger than all that could divide us.
Dear parents, I know there are so many things clamoring for your attention and our children's attention. It can be challenging to have little ones in the pews with you, and it can be tempting to sleep in on Sunday mornings. By the time your child hits grade school, others might convince you that your time is better spent in activities and events that you think will help your child get ahead in life or get scholarships to college. But, dear parents, as my girls have often shared with me, the lessons they learned in the Church can be valuable beyond measure.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister