I have always been a Christian. I was brought up in a Christian family, and apart from the few times in my life I’ve struggled with faith or been between churches, I’ve always thrown myself into the life of whichever church community I’ve been part of. I’ve been part of Non-denominational Free Church, Baptist Church, Anglican Church, and Fresh Expression of Church. I taught in a Catholic setting and am married into a Methodist family. I like to think I have a good range of experience in different settings and expressions.
My children have been with me in most of those settings, and attend a Church school. This choice had nothing to do with the fact it was a religious setting and everything to do with it being a wonderful school, although after seven years as part of the community I would argue that it is only so wonderful because it is steeped in the love of Christ as experienced and then expressed by many of its leadership and staff.
However, both my children dislike going to church (and I hasten to add this is any church, not one specific one). They hate the length of the service, the boredom they anticipate experiencing, the picking the Bible apart in the tiniest detail and the busyness of all the people there. We’re often the last in and first out. Not good for fellowship! But they love our little Life Group. They have bonds with the people we share our Life Group with, and they feel fully accepted by them. They pray with us, eat cake with us, tolerate us making a little more noise than they’d like a little later than their bedtime. Our Life Group is full of love, care and acceptance, and they thrive off it – My littlest one regularly questions the retired Vicar in the group with a level of curiosity and wisdom we all take joy in witnessing. So why don’t they feel like this in Church?
They have Children’s Church, yes. Which is good. But they aren’t challenged in the same way. They have opportunities to bond with people, yes. Which are plentiful. But in a huge room with lots of people and it’s overwhelming for them. They have a chance to Worship, and our Worship is pretty great – they even get to see their Mummy lead sometimes which is a really special thing for all of us. But they don’t feel the freedom to kick their shoes off and dance with a drum in their hand as they may do at home.
They also ask me such questions as “Why do you treat people differently to most people Mummy?” in response to me helping a stranger find their hotel on a map late at night. Or “Why would *Insert name here* not be able to come to Church with us Mummy” when overhearing my Husband and I sharing our frustrations that our Church is not fully inclusive to all of our wonderful kaleidoscope of friends. I don’t want them to learn through Church that being Gay is something to be wary of, or that when they hit puberty they begin to live with shame and confusion around their natural feelings and experiences. I want them to know in every part of their soul the life giving freedom and love of God, Their Grace and Compassion, and Their intimate desire for us to thrive and flourish. Church often talks about this, but does it live it out?
As a parent, I want my children to experience Church so they always have that anchor in their psyche as they leave us and live their own life. But I want that to be a beautiful, shining piece of art, full of life with limpets and moss, moving with them as they sail, not a ball and chain they drag along behind them etched with outdated traditions, mis-translations, oppression and fear. I strive to achieve that through living out my theology in how I treat those around me, hoping to show them my anchor is a joy, not a curse. Part of this can often be in explaining to them how Church can express things differently to how we do in our family, and that is ok. How many others need to know that?
Peace be with you.