My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE 10.23.19
Erin was three years old with a mess of loose blonde curls and a button nose sprinkled with freckles and eyes as blue as the Kentucky sky. She was the youngest worshipper at the Sulphur Christian Church when I was their pastor as a seminary student years ago. Most Sundays there were twenty of us. One morning as we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together Erin’s little voice was louder than all of ours. “Our Faaaaaatherrrr, which art in Heaaaaaaaaaaven” she said with as much sass and vinegar as any little girl could muster. Stifling giggles, the rest of us continued praying. By the time we got to “Thy kingdom come” Erin’s voice, quite loud, insistent and still sassy as all-get-out piped-up again in her thick Kentucky accent, “No Daddy, I will not behave!”
Miss Ida and Miss Gladys were Erin’s Sunday School teachers at Sulphur Christian Church until she went off to college. Her Grannie and Grandidaddy sat with her in the pew when her mother helped lead worship. Her auntie and great aunts sat a couple pews up and one sat over, across the aisle. When her aunt was married in the church, Erin was the flower girl. When Erin played in the cemetery on the hill while Grandidaddy mowed, she stood behind a tombstone carved like an open Bible on the top and preached to the cows in the pasture across the fence.
There were two little boys in the congregation, eight or nine years old to Erin’s three years. Once, when they collected the offering as they often did, they brought it forward while the congregation sang, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” When the doxology was over and the congregation bowed their heads for me to bless the offerings, these two stinkers, giggling, scooped all the money out of the plates in one swoop and pocketed it right under my nose and open eyes. “Gentlemen,” I said when the prayer was over as I held the empty plates and gave them my best young-preacher raised eyebrow look. With twinkles in every eye in that little sanctuary those goof-balls put the money back in the plates, and oh, so proud of themselves, walked down the center aisle to sit with their mothers.
Children who grow up in small, rural churches are some of the most fortunate children on the planet. They may not have big Sunday School classes or youth groups with lots of peers, but they have this beautifully woven web of people of all ages who know them, love them, pray for them and help them grow up secure knowing they truly belong somewhere.
Studies tell us children are lonely today. Statistics tell us teenagers feel more disconnected now than ever. If you have children in your life who don’t have a church they can call their own; if you don’t have a church to call your own, where you know you are welcome even on the days when you don’t want to behave, maybe it’s time to give church a(nother) try.
You’re always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ, ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning. I love hearing from you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.