Why we keep our kids in church

Ever since Anselm was born, we’ve made it a priority to keep him — and Perpetua as well, once she came along — in for as much of the main church service each week as humanly possible. It began mostly as a practical step (we had mandatory chapel in seminary without childcare) but has become something we really value for what we see it doing in our children’s lives. Our church has a great kids’ program — Anselm loves Sunday School and Perpetua more-or-less tolerates the nursery — but for most of the service, they’re in the pew. This is why.

Knowing how to behave in church comes from being in church. 

Sometimes people compliment us on how well our kids behave in church. This isn’t to say that they’re never loud or wiggly, or that I’ve never had to carry a screaming child or two out of the sanctuary (ha). But by and large, they do fairly well. They sit (mostly) quietly and listen, they stay in the pew instead of climbing over or crawling under. As much as I’d like to say that this is because I am, obviously, a 100% amazing parent… what it really comes down to is that our children know how to behave in church because they’ve always been in church. It’s not a foreign environment to them; it’s just something we do. Since they were born they’ve been watching and listening to what the adults around them are doing. As they’ve gotten older they’ve started mimicking that behaviour. They can’t read, but they hold their bulletins. They stand and sit when everyone else does. Anselm can sing some hymns that he knows. They know how to behave in church because they spend time in church.

We want them to know that church is for them. 

We’re Anglicans, so Anselm and Perpetua were both baptized as infants. They are members of Christ’s body. There are no second-class citizens of the Kingdom of God! God desires our children’s worship just as he desires ours; God works in our children’s hearts through the hearing of his word just as he works in ours; God invites our children into his presence just as he invites us. There are few things that make me grit my teeth like hearing someone gush about how “children are the future of the church.” Y’all. Children aren’t the future. Children are the now.

We trust that God meets them right where they are. 

Can Anselm articulate a coherent, comprehensive systematic theology? Of course not. He’s three. But does he have faith? He sure does. He’s got all of the basics down: God made him and loves him, Jesus died for him and then rose again so that we can be with God forever, we go to church to worship God and learn about him, we can talk to God in prayer whenever we want, and the Holy Spirit helps us in all of that. As he grows he will learn and understand more. God’s grace meets us where we are; there’s no minimum age or cognitive level that we have to meet before he will begin to work in our hearts. Corporate worship is critically important to the process of spiritual formation, and we trust that having our children in church is impacting them in ways that we perhaps cannot yet see or understand, but which are nevertheless very real.

Bringing our kids to church reminds us that church isn’t about us. 

There are times that having the kids in church feels more like a hassle than anything else. I take them out to Sunday School and nursery, respectively, right before the sermon begins, which means that I miss the first few minutes of the sermon more often than not. And I go fetch them during the Peace or the Offeratory, which means that I often miss at least the first part of the Communion liturgy. When they’re with me, my attention is divided; I may be singing or praying or listening, but I’m also keeping one eye and one ear fixed on them. It’s hard for me to completely “enter in” to what we’re doing. But you know what? That’s ok. Granted, I do look forward to the days when I can regularly hear the whole sermon and participate in the whole liturgy, start to finish. But bringing my children into church reminds me that weekly worship is about a lot more than how I feel or what I get out of it. It’s about being with the body of believers, however messy that might look sometimes. It’s about passing on my faith to my children. It’s about a whole lot of things, none of which are centred around my ego or enjoyment.

Our kids need to be in church because the liturgy forms us.

We learn to worship by worshipping. We learn to pray by praying. We learn to sing by singing. Hearing the words of the liturgy week after week lets them penetrate our children’s hearts and minds, just as they penetrate ours. We have consistently been surprised when Anselm comes out with a phrase or idea lifted from the liturgy — but we oughtn’t be. In fact, it’s exactly what we ought to expect. The liturgy is deeply formative and we want our children to be formed by it.

Jesus bids us to let the children come to him. 

This is the big one, isn’t it? Jesus invites our children into his presence, just as they are. Even when they’re too small to understand. Even when they’re fussy. Even when you just get settled into the pew and then someone has a diaper blowout or drops a hymnbook or cries. Even when it’s the last thing we want to do on a Sunday morning. We don’t have to bring perfectly behaved children to church. We don’t have to bring completely attentive children to church. We just have to bring the children we have, again and again, trusting that in their imperfections and ours God is doing something beautiful.

Related Reading: Topical Tuesday: Why are there no children in church? | Children in Worship, or the Mortification of Parents | Welcoming Kids into Worship | Dear Parents with Young Children in Church | Pew parenting | Children belong in Mass


Reading Round-Up: February 2018

Oh, right, it’s March. Here’s what I read last month:

  1. And Life Comes Back (Tricia Lott Williford)
  2. The Four Tendencies (Gretchen Rubin)
  3. The Divine Comedy III: Paradise (Dante, tr. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds)
  4. Follow My Leader (James B. Garfield)
  5. One Step at a Time (Deborah Kent)
  6. Real American (Julie Lythcott-Haims)
  7. Persuasion (Jane Austen)
  8. Camino Island (John Grisham)

February was a bit of a lighter month for me — both fewer books read, and a number of them on the shorter side as well. It’s not so surprising; I watched a lot of Olympics. Coupled with the nasty stomach bug that took each of us out in turn, and our three-season marathon through Poldark, small wonder that the book pile sank quite slowly in February. No matter.

Somehow I came out of my childhood owning two young adult novels about losing sight. In Follow My Leader, eleven-year-old Jimmy Carter (really) is blinded suddenly after an accident with a firecracker, and has to learn to navigate his new life, first with a cane and then with his guide dog, Leader. In One Step at a Time, thirteen-year-old Tracy Newberry finds that she has to cope not only with entering high school thoroughly in her older sister’s shadow, but with the terrifying suspicion that she is slowly losing her sight. The two books offer some interesting contrasts when read in conjunction with each other: younger boy vs. older girl, grade school vs. high school, 1950s vs. 1980s, sudden affliction vs. an inescapable decline. I’ll be keeping these two around for the kids.

And Life Comes Back is Tricia Lott Williford’s first memoir — I read her second, Let’s Pretend We’re Normal, back in December I believe. And Life Comes Back tells the story of her sudden widowhood (in her early thirties, with two preschool-aged children) and her slow reemergence into life afterwards. It is sad, but lovely.

In the “and now for something completely different” department, I finished February with some back-to-back Jane Austen and John Grisham. As one does. I enjoyed Persuasion, although I would probably not count it as my favourite Austen (that crown belongs, always and forever, to Pride and Prejudice). But Anne Elliot is a most sympathetic heroine, and I’m sure I will re-read her story in a year or two with equal pleasure. Camino Island is Grisham’s latest-but-one, a novel that opens with a bold heist of several original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from the Princeton library, and centres around a group of writers, book collectors, and blackmarketeers in Florida. It’s a fun read.

The Four TendenciesParadise, and Real American have already been treated in their own respective posts.


Quick-sew notions bag

I had occasion to whip up a little project this afternoon.

For the past while I’ve been keeping my crochet hooks and whatnot in a plastic Ziploc baggie — or rather, in several successive baggies, since they inevitably either get pierced through or decide to split up the seam (I blame the tapestry needles). It was past time for something sturdier and more permanent, and so I went diving on my much-neglected fabric stash.

It has been a long time since I’ve sewn anything, really. Part of that is not wanting to start anything new while still under the weight of several half-finished projects — but most of it is because my sewing machine is broken, and I can’t decide whether or not to get it fixed. It’s an older machine, second-hand, and if its mechanical issue gets sorted out I think there is still a lot of life in it. But what I get stuck is on the fact that having it seen to and repaired would cost about the same, or perhaps more, than simply acquiring a new machine. On the one hand, it seems extremely wasteful to buy something new when the old one could be repaired. On the other hand, it seems silly to repair the old when a new would cost the same and have all the advantages of newness. And so I perpetually dither, and neither replace nor repair my machine, and my fabric whiles away its time in storage.

But then there are days like today where I suddenly remember that, duh, I know how to hand-sew.

The whole thing took perhaps half an hour, start to finish, including choosing and ironing the fabric. I didn’t work off a pattern — it’s just a drawstring bag — but your basic process is to find a piece of fabric about twice the width of what you’d like your bag to measure and fold it in half, pinning the right sides together. Sew down the long edge, starting about an inch from the top, and one short edge. Fold down your un-sewn short edge to make a little tunnel for your string, and sew along its edge to seal it, being careful not to sew your bag closed! Use a safety pin or similar to push your string/cord/whatever (I used braided yarn) through that tunnel. TIe it off and then turn the entire thing right-side-out. You’re done.

It’s very satisfying to work something up so quickly, especially when one has larger projects on the go (and go, and go…). And this will do me much better for carting my things around than a plastic bag. So here’s to hand sewing!

To the heart of Heaven

After nearly one hundred cantos  my mystical journey with Dante is now complete: having made it through Hell and Purgatory, last month I (finally) finished Paradise as well. I’ve started writing this post about three or four times now, unsure of how to start or which direction to move in, because my reading of Paradise was extremely scattered; it is hard to gather a coherent impression of it in my mind. (What can I say? All that Olympic figure skating wasn’t going to watch itself.) And at this remove, I’m not sure why I flagged all the passages I did. For the moment, in consequence, I think I must give up on coherence — so in no particular order, here are a few notes which will have to do:

1. Very early on, Dante speaks with the soul of Piccarda dei Donati, and questions her as to how she can be satisfied with the little of God she has been given (relative to those who dwell closer / have a larger capacity to be filled): “But tell me, you whose happiness is here, / Have you no hankering to go up higher, / To win more insight or a love more dear?” (III.64-66). I was very much struck by her reply: “Brother, our love has laid our wills to rest, / Making us long only for what is ours, / And by no other thirst to be possessed. […] Nay, ’tis the essence of our blissful fate / To dwell in the divine will’s radius, / Wherein our wills themselves are integrate […] And please the King that here in-willeth us / To His own will; and His will is our peace…” (III. 70-72, 79-81, 84-5). I love that. And His will is our peace.

2. Dante’s passage in Canto VII on God’s means of redemption is both beautiful poetry and beautiful theology:

Either must God, of his sole courtesy, / Remit, or man must pay with all that’s his, / The debt of sin in its entirety.

Within the Eternal Counsel’s deep abyss / Rivent thine eye, and with a heed as good / As thou canst give me, do thou follow this.

Man from his finite assets never could / Make satisfaction; ne’er could he abase him / So low, obey thereafter all he would,

As he’d by disobedience sought to raise him; / And for this cause man might not pay his due / Himself, nor from the debtor’s roll erase him.

Needs then must God, by His own ways, renew / Man’s proper life, and reinstate him so; […]

For God’s self-giving, which made possible / That man should raise himself, showed more largesse / Than if by naked power He’s cancelled all; /

And every other means would have been less / Than justice, if it had not pleased God’s Son / To be humiliate into fleshliness. (VII. 91-104, 115-120)

3. Dorothy L. Sayers died quite suddenly while working on Paradise; she had translated the first twenty cantos, but had not begun any of her introductory or explicatory notes. The work was finished by Dr. Barbara Reynolds, who was both a gifted scholar of Italian and Sayers’s goddaughter. Reynolds’s notes lack that particular Sayersian sparkle that I love so well, but I was interested to see how seamlessly the translation itself progresses between Cantos 1-20 and 21-33. If I hadn’t know there were two translators, I probably would not have guessed.

4. I enjoyed the sarcastic bite of this snippet from Beatrice’s injunction against presumptuous preachers: “Christ His Apostles did not thus address: / Go forth, preach idle stories to all men / But taught them his true doctrine to profess.” (XXIX.109-111)

5. The metaphor department: one of the great puzzles of the Christian faith is how to image/explain the Trinity. I’ve heard some doozies over the years (the Godhead is like an egg! like a clover! like a water molecule!) but I like Dante’s vision here, of three spheres occupying the same space:

But as my sight by seeing learned to see, / The transformation which in me took place / Transformed the single changeless form for me.

That light supreme, within its fathomless / Clear substance, showed to me three spheres, which bare / Three hues distinct, and occupied one space;

The first mirrored the next, as though it were / Rainbow from rainbow, and the third seemed flame / Breathed equally from each of the first pair.

How weak are words, and how unfit to frame / My concept — which lags after what was shown / So far, ‘twould flatter it to call it lame! (XXXIII. 112-123)

And so ends the journey, with Dante’s sense-defying vision of the Trinity. It is interesting to see that Paradise (and indeed, the trilogy as a whole) ends not with a dénouement as we would typically expect, but at the moment of climax. There is no accounting for Dante’s return to earth, the end of his vision, or the like — no sense at all of what happens next. But how, one wonders, could there be? After ninety-nine Cantos, Dante has said all that he will say on the matter — and the poem ends with his will moving in perfect harmony with God’s. Once again we are reminded of Piccarda dei Donati’s statement that “His will is our peace” — and Dante has at last reached this state himself. It is a beautiful and fitting ending.

Crochet and Grace

At the last meeting of the prayer shawl ministry at our church, we had a discussion about the way that the shawls/blankets/etc. that we make are distributed. Right now they go through the pastoral care team — so if there is a need, people can request something, either on their own behalf or for someone else. The pastoral team then knows of the need and can pray, follow up as appropriate, etc., and the crocheted or knitted item in question goes to someone who needs it. The question arose as to whether this was the best way to serve people who may, for example, feel uncomfortable going to the pastoral team. Should we just have a stack of blankets and shawls at the back of the church for people to take?

We decided not to go that route, in part because knowing people’s needs so that we can pray for them is an integral part of the ministry. But we also felt that if the blankets were simply out there for the taking, people would just — well, take them. We do want them to go to people, of course — that’s the whole point! But unless you do some sort of handicraft yourself, you probably don’t realise how much time and effort goes into making them. We want them to be given away with intentionality. And in one sense, we give them away because they are too valuable to sell.

Take the half-completed baby blanket pictured above, for example. Let’s imagine that I decided to sell it on Etsy instead of adding it to the donation stash. The pattern I’m using estimated that it would take 10-20 hours to make this project, depending on experience and speed. I haven’t really been keeping track, but I think that it will probably end up being about a twelve-hour project for me. Minimum wage where I live is $9.25/hr, which means that if I’m accounting for my time I’d have to charge $111. Add on my materials cost and it’s $116 just to break even. And of course, let’s not forget that I’d need to take catalogue-quality photos, spend time managing my Etsy store’s SEO so that people could find it, take it to the post office, and the like. So let’s round it up to $125 for a very modest profit after everything is accounted for.

Nobody’s going to buy my baby blankets for $125. Not when there are similar blankets on Etsy going for $25-40. Not when you can get perfectly lovely and serviceable blankets at Walmart or Target or Amazon for $15. I could never sell this blanket for what it’s actually worth. So the only thing to do is give it away.

God’s grace is like that.

If there were to be a price put on God’s favour, none of us could pay that bill. If there was a way to work to earn his love, we could work ourselves to death and still not have worked enough. The free gifts he offers us — his unmerited grace and favour, forgiveness and salvation, redemption and true flourishing — are valuable beyond measure. There is no way that he could “sell” those things for what they’re worth. So the only thing to do is give them away.

But unlike our basket of blankets and shawls, his grace is, so to speak, at the back of the church for anyone to take. There’s no vetting process. There’s no restriction. There is, amazingly, only gift.

That’s grace!