by Karla Peterson
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Almost everyone knows this commandment. Many of us had no choice when we were kids (my dad was a Presbyterian minister). We know many of the commandments are common sense human values, but what about the Sabbath? Is that one just a historical artifact? Weekends can be a mad rush - packed with special events, birthday parties, lessons, sports, and church. They all seem worthwhile, fun or both. How to choose when there are inevitable conflicts? Becky asked me to write about the value I find in bringing my kids to church regularly.
My sons Owen (7) & Perry (1.5) and I go to church almost every Sunday. There are exceptions (travel, illness, special friend's birthday party) but otherwise we come. Owen might ask "why?" sometimes and at this point I just tell him that is what we do. It's something I chose as a discipline because it would be good for us. And, much like people find with regular exercise, I have kept doing it because of the benefits.
What are the benefits of being an active member at church? They can be harder to spot than the skills learned in sports or lessons. Owen has become part of the community at First Unitarian and that gives him more than just the seven principles. The community provides a framework in which to teach him the values and life lessons that are important to me. That framework is made up of people - the famous "village" that helps raise a child. Home and school and clubs can give a skewed view to the child that the world is just made up of kids like him and the adults who serve them. Church can be more balanced with its mixture of young/old, singles/couples/families, straight/gay, well off/struggling, black/white, abilities/challenges, and different faith traditions.
Here are some examples of things Owen is learning from his church community:
Respect and justice for all people - Owen has met all kinds of people at our church (homeless people, mentally challenged people, deaf people, blind people, Wiccans) and knows that they are all part of our church family. Although there are openly GLBT people everywhere now (in our neighborhood and working in Owen's school) church gives Owen much closer relationships with GLBT singles/couples/families. Of the five secret pals he has had over the years, one was gay and one was transgendered. He can see and ask about the differences ("But why can't they get married?") but he can also see the normality of their lives. If only more grownups could attend our church and learn that lesson!
Self Discipline - Owen is learning to sit quietly and listen to a variety of music or a speaker. He is also learning to entertain himself quietly if he doesn't feel like listening. This is an important life lesson - you aren't always going to be entertained, but you can't disturb others.
Participation in community rituals - Like the routines we establish at home that give our children a sense of security, the rituals at church can be a comfort even if the size of our church seems large and imposing. The rituals that Owen enjoys are going forward for the children's story, lighting a candle of concern, singing songs, blending our waters for water communion, celebrating Springfest and Winterfest, and sharing joys and concerns.
Caring and service - Once the relationships with people in the church are established there are plenty of opportunities for teaching caring and service. When one of Owen's classmates had an extended illness he wrote a get well note for him. When people in our Neighborhood Circle have been ill or hospitalized we try to pay them a visit. When someone we know dies we try to go to the memorial service. This has helped Owen see the blessing of health as well as the circle of life long before he has to deal with the death of a loved one.
There are lots of ways to be involved in the life of our church that complement and enhance participation on Sunday morning. But if you are interested in increasing your level of involvement you can start by making Sunday morning a priority. Come a little bit early and meet the choir people as they get a cup of coffee, play with your toddler in the nursery and get to know the other parents, find a task your child can help with like greeting people on the steps, or light a candle together for a sick friend.
Envision the relationship you want with the church community for yourself and for your children and then make it happen!