Can you recall being in a church sanctuary as a child? I remember sitting in a fluffy pink yet scratchy dress I loved, scrutinizing the order of service and wondering how long I would have to wait until the next song. Savoring the Lifesavers I had been given from my grandmother’s purse, I longed to just stand up already and sing with everyone! For me, the content of the services was its importance to my mother, something about God and a time to be thoughtful, thankful, and quiet, except for the blessed singing.
A child’s world is full of experiences that they do not fully understand. They navigate the world taking cues from their caregivers and peers on expectations until they grow into their own understanding of the purpose of these shared experiences. Yet if they feel valued, safe, and know the experience is significant for the adults around them, children learn to participate, look forward to and find value in the experience of being together at church.
Now, children will do what children do best, be exquisitely full embodied humans that push our boundaries. Beings that will wiggle, are messy and loud and find ways to do things you could not have imagined doing in a sanctuary. Their parents know this will happen; they are taking a risk that their beloved children can feel valued, cared for and safe with the people in our faith community. They are hoping the sanctuary, our faith community, is a place of welcome and a place their family can belong.
Our children begin their religious education each week in the sanctuary with us because the congregation is the first curriculum. It is in the sanctuary they see us gather, light a chalice, speak words of purpose, listen to one another, celebrate new life, and remember those we mourn. Who we are, not what we try and teach, is what children will remember best. And if children feel treasured, loved even when sticky, smiled at even when loud, valued even when doing the unimaginable, they will know they belong in our church.
Hopefully someday, when they have grown and return to church as adults, it will feel like coming home. Returning to a safe place of belonging, with good people, their people, their sanctuary.
May it be true now and in the times to come.
Rev. Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, Minister of Religious Education