The adoption paperwork is all turned in. My scrap book o' reasons why birthparents should choose me is ready for viewing. I have featured in my own movie. (Set on an aging wicker couch, the tale of "Pick Me, Pick Me," is pretty much a montage of my self-perceived positive attributes. I'm feeling hopeful that the fact that I never blink is not a deterrent.)
So, now I am waiting. The morning after I turned everything in, I received an email asking if I would give permission to have my stuff shown to one particular birth mother. (There were extenuating circumstances. I won't always know if I'm in the possibilities pile. Thank God.) But the first glimpse of that email really kicked in the "Holy cow!! This is happening!" Since then I have found myself to be suffering with psychosomatic pregnancy hormones, which involves crying at > 60% of all Olympic commercials (Shelli's going soft. WHAT IS HAPPENNING?) and rethinking church.
Maybe not everyone rethinks church in their psychosomatic pregnancy (or their actual, in-their-belly pregnancies). But the number of new parents who, after years away, make the trudge back to church to baptize their babies and get their kids plugged into some kind of Christian learnin' leads me to think this isn't all that unusual.
A handful of things have happened to me recently. Maybe they have been happening all along, and I haven't been perceptive to them. Maybe it's the "hormones". A little over a month ago, one of these occasions played out, while I was delivering the children's message. A beautiful young giel, whose parents are working hard to make church a place for her, was having a bit of trouble staying put up front on the steps. She galloped up and down the aisles and settled back down with her parents about 3/4 of the way back. After all the kids had gone, and the peace had been passed, I was standing up front walking through this week's announcements. I watched her walk deliberately back towards me, sit down in the center aisle beside the front pew, fold her hands peacefully in her lap and take in the announcements. From the second she began to bend towards the floor, I telepathically sent brain waves to all the congregants, "This is AWESOME! Do you understand me? This is awesome!" If she'd still been there when I finished up, I would have joined her on the floor for the sermon.
Expecting the someday arrival of my own child has made me hypersensitive to how I hope I will raise him/her in the church and how I hope my church will be for my child. I wish I hadn't immediately jumped to, "If anyone so much as looks at this sweet child of God like she's doing something wrong, I will punch them in the stomach." Let's just be clear; by "punch in the stomach", I meant give them a really stern glare. And let's also be clear that I don't think this was a reasonable reaction or that it would have been remotely necessary. My congregation didn't flinch or roll their eyes or act even marginally uncomfortable, much to their credit and my lack of credit.
But I wasn't sure. I work at a large church - a highly programmatic one with enough critical mass in every demographic that we parcel folks into age categories for most everything. This makes good sense for appealing to different learning styles. But it also means that adults and kids don't mix a whole lot. Most children and youth go to Sunday School during worship or following the children's message. Crying babies are carted off by their parents to enjoy the sermon from the telecast in the parlor.
We do worship well. We do education well. (And by well, I mean really well.) But in that moment, the sitting-on-the-floor moment, I worried that maybe we do everything so well, so orderly and parceled out that when the messy and disruptive, real-life stuff plays out in our midst we won't be ready to handle it with grace.
I grew up in a small church. I remember sitting on the laps of my parents' friends, our church friends, at church league volley ball games, when I was in elementary school and too old and too lanky for sitting on laps. I remember my sister and her best friend taking baths in the kitchen sink, their naked baby bottoms where we later washed our pancake dishes at the camp where we had our congregational retreat. I remember sneaking out of the balcony with my best friend, Christie, and being greeted by Hoyt Jackson, who had walked right out of the chancel loft, in his burgundy choir robe, to cut us off at the back door. My extended family lived far away. Madison Presbyterian Church was my family.
I want this for my child . . . to be snuggled, included, corrected by my family of faith - not just the nursery family of faith, or the children's ministry, or the youth ministry, but by the multi-generational community.
I watch a handful of families daring to do this every Sunday, even when we make it so easy not to. Big churches have the resources to Downton-Abbey their worship and programming. In Downton Abbey the children are seen and not heard. Scratch that, the children are not seen and not heard. Little Sibby and Baby George are resourced out to nanny until an adorable and convenient time for their adult family members to dote on them. The kids do kid stuff. The adults do adult stuff. And when it's appropriately civil, the Venn diagram of kid stuff and adult stuff overlaps. When tidy, comfortable and convenient become the barometer of good, the Venn diagram of child and adult overlap is very thin.
In some ways, it will be easier for my baby. He or she will be known in my church because of being mine. And I fully intend to let the sweet granny types pick her up from nursery, and the bulky deep-voiced types to sway her to sleep at the Wednesday Lenten lunch, and the teenagers babysit. (Hold me to this, please.) I'm sure he/she will spend a sizable chunk of time in the nursery, but I don't want the nursery to be all that is known of church. I want the pews to be church, and the people to be church, and the family, and the singing, and the mistakes, and the love.
|Lady Mary visits Baby George with Nanny West.|
I want a messy, multi-generational church family for my child and for every child, which means that I need to adapt my ministry to make that happen. I need to examine my own expectations about doing things well and remember that well doesn't always mean polished. My life is going to lose a certain amount of polish in the next few years. Shouldn't my church love me and my child through that? (Love every parent and child through that?) I'm not saying to be haphazard or sloppy. Worship done with intentionality is a glory to God, but can't the intentionality be about making space for mishaps and a tiny bit of ruckus? This means church leadership being vocally (not just implicitly) permissive of wiggling and providing enough multi-sensory learning possibilities that little ones and their wits-frazzled parents are fully embraced.
The church of my childhood made me feel like I was a part of it - not that I would be a part of it someday but that I was fully in the mix from before I could write my Es without 8 horizontal lines. My child's church must seek to do the same, by dreaming up intergenerational opportunities for worship, play and service - more things like our intergenerational mission trip, Stop Hunger Now, Advent festival, Ash Wednesday pancakes, and family Easter service. This is inconvenient. It is complicated, and it takes longer. Providing service opportunities for an 8, 16, 45, and 70 year-old to process their learning is undoubtedly a pain, but I don't know that I have been more blessed in my ministry than watching an elementary age child and his retired prayer partner hunkered over a Bible together, talking about their work in a soup kitchen.
When we have the resources, it is easier to ship the kids off to nanny. They'll learn good things there. They'll play and color and probably have a grand time. And these things are good and valuable. (Really, I mean it; they are.) But children's church, on its own, isn't church. And grown-up church, while blissfully uninterrupted (minus that lady who won't stop blowing her nose, and the guy checking the ballgame score on his iphone) is shirking it's responsibility to disciple young people. Being family is a pain in the neck. Being the family of faith is no different.
My child whether he or she has even been born yet is already part of this family. My prayer is that he/she will know it - that, while seen and heard, and perfect and completely falling apart, my child will know that this place with the pulpit and the copious amounts of coffee is where her/his family gathers and they're going to love her and teach her to love God, even when it's easier just to park her in the nursery. May my psychosomatic hormones not rest until I have done my part to live into this hope.
As always, thank you for being a part of my journey. I am blessed to have such a family (immediate, church, and virtual), Shelli