As part of the First Grade Sunday church school class at First Presbyterian, the children were invited to ask me any question they had about faith. I plan to try and answer those questions in the next several blogs during Lent.
Someone recently commented to me that she loved watching the children come forward for what we call “The Time with the Young Church.” She said the way they make their way up, sit around the baptismal font, not afraid to ask questions or share their own thoughts, says to her that they feel at home in the space, that this church is an extension of their families. I think she is right, and I would take it one step further – this church is their family. In every way, they are being formed in faith by a community that takes seriously the baptismal vows we all make each time a person passes through these waters.
I read a blog the other day that asked the question, “Why are young people leaving the church in young adulthood, after they leave for college?” One of the reasons he gave was that the church was not, in many cases, taking children and youth seriously. The church often, says the writer, cordons the children and youth off in another part of the church building, entertaining them with big programs, conducting separate worship experiences, and, worst of all, talking down to them. The author suggests that children and youth are capable of understanding much more than we think, and they are hungry for the depths of the faith. When they go off to college or enter the world of work and the complexities of life in the 21st century, they often discover they were well entertained in church, but not formed in faith. It makes it easy for them to walk away.
Wen I read things like this, I am grateful. I am grateful to be part of a community of faith that deeply values intergenerational worship and learning, that routinely places persons of all ages together in the same room, in meaningful relationships, taking seriously the contributions of all. I am also grateful to be in a church that values the faith questions all of us bring, and is not so quick to provide pat answers. In a culture – and especially a church culture – that is quick to provide certitude, and encourages persons to line up on competing sides of all kinds of issues, I am thankful to be in a place that lifts up the virtue of humility, opening a wide space for the mutual sharing of ideas.
I am reminded of the nature of this community every Ash Wednesday. Last night, I placed the ashes on the foreheads of two year olds and eighty-two years olds, some held tightly by their parents, some pushed in wheelchairs by their children. I placed the ashen cross on my daughter, my wife, and my mother as well. All of us received the same ashes. All of us heard the same words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us – one human family, equal in our need for God’s renewing grace. This simple reality is why we value the questions, and the ones who ask them, even – especially – the little ones.
It is challenging to be a pastor in such a place, to be attentive to the questions, and to take seriously all who pose them, regardless of their age or life experience. So I am glad to have the chance to hear some of the questions from our first graders, and I invite you in the next few blogs to listen in as I try to respond, and perhaps share your own insights. After all, it is as we respond together in community that the full depth of both our questions and the answers we bring is revealed.
I wish you a holy Lent. Be bold in your questions. Be humble in your answers. Be assured of your acceptance.