We Raised our Kids in Church (10 Things I’m Glad we did for our Kids, Part IV)

chpc exteriorWhen 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.

Exercise, Eat Your Veggies and Go to Church (Why Even Go to Church Part V)

Think of it as free health care. Who would guess that church attendance is good for both mental and physical health? Not running around the perimeter of a church, not climbing its tower – just regularly going to worship services, has shown itself in a whole body of research, to be really good for us.

New York Times writImage result for running to churcher T. H. Luhrmann, an anthropologist, describes studies connecting church attendance with increased immune response and decreased blood pressure. Peter Haas, author of Pharisectomy, cites studies tying church attendance to lowered risk of depression, higher goal achievement, higher grades and completion of degrees, and longer life expectancy.

In one depression study, psychologists Rita Law and David Sbarra, studied the relationship between church attendance and mood disorders in older people, and found that church attendance protected this population from the development of depression. The study even corrected statistically for physical health and social support, since these are known to impact depression, and they still found significantly lower rates among the church attenders.

Going to church also correlated to lowered smoking and drinking rates, more physical exercise and more stable marriages, in a 30year study of 2,600 people. The study also demonstrated that religious groups did not just attract people who already behaved in healthy ways; they helped create these behaviors.

I didn’t need to know about any of these studies to know that attending my church, has been good for my own health and that of others. College Hill Presbyterian in Cincinnati has had a powerful healing ministry for decades, and prayer is offered both during and after services. We have seen partial blindness disappear (the lady could read again), cancer tumors disappear, and an eating disorder loosen its grip, just to name a few.

In longer sessions with volunteer counselors, I have been substantially (not completely, alas) healed of depression. Less dramatic but just as important, I have observed that spending year after year in a community where people love and respect me has empowered me to make steady improvements in everything from diet and exercise to the capacity to forgive.  (I guess you could argue that I’d figure stuff out as I got older anyway, but you would be underestimating my former enslavement to self-destructive people, negative thinking, and chocolate.)

Many behavior studies are correlative; we observe that church attendance leads to better health but we don’t necessarily find out why. Social scientists theorize that it is the social support in churches that improves health, or the peer encouragement away from addictive behaviors and towards responsible, faithful action that does the trick. That only makes sense, but I would also point to the promise in James 5:16  that if we pray for each other we will be healed, and in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, we will be forgiven, and in Isaiah 40:31 that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.

Good church services give us the space and help we need to pray for one another’s healing, to confess our sins, to wait on God. I have observed over and over that during the week after I have had to skip church, I am more tired and emotionally discouraged by Thursday night than during weeks when I go. It’s not that God abandons me if I bag church, but I have missed out on the joy and centering and renewal that come from gathering with people who are seeking God. Going to church literally gives me strength for the week ahead. Apparently, it’s good for my health in many other ways too.