When our first baby was three months old, we moved around the corner from our church. That big stone building with its bell tower crowning the hilltop has been our rock, our main institution.
School involvement comes and goes. Jobs end. Kids age out of sports leagues and bands. All those relationships connected to those things fade, but church goes on, because no one outgrows their deep need for God.
I can’t begin to describe how our church has enriched the lives of our family.
As a person who grew up without the church, it was a constant surprise to me to discover people ready to pour out their time, talent and love on my kids. It began as soon as they were born. We had three babies in 20 months – mathematically impossible unless you have premature twins before your toddler turns two! In the crazy days following the twins’ homecoming, people from the church whom we barely knew were cleaning the house, bringing us meals, even doing our laundry.
That was just the beginning. There was a nursery where we could leave them all safe in the arms of one-on-one caregivers while we sank exhausted into a pew and enjoyed the stillness of undisturbed worship.
As our babies grew, church became their comfortable second home. That was where they had big rooms to run around, cool toys to play with, crowds to charm. They were introduced to good music. I recall taking my one-year-old to his first concert. We wondered if he was old enough to behave, and were delighted when he sat attentive through song after song. Then, during the first break in the music, he pulled his thumb out of his mouth and shouted, “More songs!”
For children as young as three, there were age-appropriate worship experiences in their Sunday School classes. They used to love when their teacher rang a triangle, one on each side, three times while they all said, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” There was also a cooperative preschool which stressed the development of the whole child and required parents to help in the classroom. I learned volumes about patience and the value of structure from those gentle teachers.
During the grade school years, every season offered something to look forward to at church, from the joys of summer camps to the wonder of candle-lit Christmas services. On Palm Sunday they danced down the aisles with palm branches, and in August there was a block party where the whole neighborhood showed up for free food, music and face painting.
The milestones of their growth were marked with careful ceremonies – baptism, the presentation of Bibles at the beginning of fourth grade, the transition from children’s ministry to youth group after grade six, with its whole new world of wild games and pool parties and mission trips.
In the demanding high school years, church was a refuge for our boys, where they knew they were loved apart from their performance. Small discipleship groups grounded them in truth and gave them structure for practicing their faith after leaving home.
No one but God knows how many dozens of people have loved our kids, how many beautiful images connected with God are wired into the structure of their brains, how much truth has taken root in their hearts.
I have not always felt like getting my kids up and ready for church, but every time, I’ve been glad I did. It took the whole village to get them where they are, and as adults, I know they will need it just as much.