When I was a child, sitting with my parents and siblings in church, I passed the time during the interminable sermon by counting the organ pipes or choir members who wore eyeglasses.
I share these comments not to criticize the church where I first found faith – the West Street Christian Church in Tipton, Ind. – but to remind readers of the importance of raising a child in the faith and in the church.
Such a child has a far greater chance of a lifetime of faith than a child, similar in other circumstances, who never attends church during his/her formative years. Those unbaptized throughout infancy, childhood or teenage years are far less likely to become faithful followers of the risen Lord.
There is more than meets the eye when it comes to the faith development of children over those years. When parents opine that their child pays too little attention to the sermon and too much to doodling on the bulletin, I reassure them that their child is receiving far more than is apparent.
This column comes because my siblings and I (three of us are in our 60s) have been remembering our childhood impressions of this vital congregation with stained glass and pipe organ in a rural county seat town in Central Indiana.
The things we remembered were very ordinary! They consisted of being in the church kitchen with a parent, running down the hallways of the Sunday School Building, going on a hayride, making crafts during Lent that recalled the suffering of Jesus, getting a finger slammed in a door, singing in a children’s choir, etc.
I remember only two Sunday school teachers and one couple who led our weekly children’s assembly: one teacher was quickly canned after teaching a lesson from Playboy; the other taught the Travels of Paul to the 12th graders, giving a quiz each week on her lesson.
Some people have the notion that something dramatic and life changing must happen on a regular basis for our children and teenagers to maintain their faith in a confusing world. Certainly it is important for a congregation to help youth find and articulate faith, but such treasure often grows by slow accretion, consisting of things as ordinary as seeing adults sing hymns of faith together or bow their heads to pray.
My siblings and I remembered different things. One sister remembered the toilet in the children’s bathroom because it was sized for people her age; she could put her feet on the floor! This small detail told her that the church cared for little people. My other sister remembered dropping nickels into the offering plate weekly.
Perhaps my family of origin is atypical but I hope not. My school teacher father and secretary mother took us to church every Sunday as children. Fifty years later all four siblings remain lifelong church members, active in many ways in the congregations in communities where we’ve lived.
If you are failing to see “results” don’t despair. Take your children to church with you and take heart!
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.