Mo. Chris' sermon today was on Matthew 5:21-37, which has to be an incredibly difficult part of the Sermon on the Mount to preach on, because it is more or less a collection of all the stuff that is hard to talk about stuffed into one passage: hardness of heart, adultery, divorce, and swearing oaths. (I always think this is one of the "Let's Get It Over With" days that the folks who compiled the Revised Common Lectionary try to add as much stuff all on one day so we don't have to deal with it the rest of the year, kind of like how they completely leave out the story about the prophet Elisha bringing the bear out of the wildnerness to devour some village boys who were making fun of his bald head - it's in there, I swear. Dang, just broke Matthew 5:34. See, it's hard.)
So, Mo. Chris picked maybe the easiest part to preach about, but one of the hardest to live - that we should not let things come between us and others, but if you hold something against a brother or sister, you should reconcile that as quickly as possible. We reconcile those hurts by talking about them, Chris said, or else holding a hurt or grudge can turn cancerous, and growth within us, from where it can infect our family, our community, and the society at large. The key is reconciliation, not just an airing of grievances. Jesus says that we should reconcile and then go offer our gift at the temple, which means that we should work out whatever we have against someone to the point that we are of sufficiently open heart that we could then ask for forgiveness.
Being that open about our hurts is a big step, to not only tell someone that they hurt us, or allow someone to tell us we have hurt them, but to do it to the point we of a forgiving mind and heart is an incredibly difficult thing to do. So, I am going to air one of my hurts that I have been harboring about my church family for some time, hoping this is a right forum, and with full effort at loving-kindness, with no judgment or attacks, but knowing that airing my hurt may make our church family better able to serve ourselves and others in love.
This morning in our children's Sunday School class, we talked about a different part of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:19-21: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth... but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Since we joined St. Peter's 10 years ago, I have held the thought that the church does not place much of its treasure in our children. Without blaming or accusing, here's what I've seen.
We have never had a regular Sunday School program until Dawn and I volunteered to do it every Sunday. It is more or less a case of "if you don't do it yourself, no one else is going to do it." And at this point, if it were not for the parents of the few children, along with Mo. Chris, and Elizabeth Taylor, Heather Prichard, Debbie Lowe, and Kathy Johnson, they would not be provided for at all. Children often feel to me like secondary members of the church.
Earlier attempts at Children's Chapel died off because it was difficult to get several volunteers to commit to Sundays and there was little training for the ones that did show up. There was a music program one year for kids, but that didn't carry on - even though we have at least 3 young women who are fully prepared for the full choir, and are probably the best voices in the church - Abby, Erin, and Sidney...
At events for Shrove Tuesday (we're Episcopalians, we do NOT celebrate Mardi Gras), we are having the traditional meal of pancakes, only because Dawn volunteered to do them. Otherwise, the kids would be left out - have you ever tried to get an 8 year old not born in Louisiana to eat gumbo, or etouffee, or crawfish? At other evening events we have, the children are purposefully excluded - "childcare will be provided". There is always plenty of wine available, but not often is there anything for kids to drink.
Our Sunday School room and the youth room gets randomly used for storage, from the flower guild, from construction in the church, from the "Junque and Treasure" sale. Once we had to share the youth room where we were doing Easter painting projects with groomsmen drinking large quantities of beer for a wedding much later that day. We had a refrigerator in our Sunday School room for most of last year. One of the bathrooms downstairs has gone unrepaired for several years, first the wall was out, then the sink was unhooked, now the toilet doesn't work. The Hispanic Men's AA group that shares our Youth Room have always been respectful of our shared space and the kids actually talk about how we should do nice things for them. I don't know that the kids understand our relationship to St. Peter's, other than this is a place where they can have some space in the church.
Ok. So maybe this hurt has grown a bit inside me already.
But through worship, music, fellowship, Christian Education, facilities, it's plain to me that St. Peter's does not put our treasure into our children. When our room gets used for storage, it sends a message to these kids that their space is not important. When they are left out of food in our dinners, it tells them they are not a part of what is going on. I feel that we think - well, what should we do with the kids, and not, the kids will be here, what can we do to include them.
Here's what we do not need - more money. Throwing that kind of treasure at renovating facilities, or hiring youth ministers, or sending kids to camp won't change a thing.
What we need is commitment and time and inclusion. Regular commitment of time spent with the kids and integration of the kids in every thing that we do. Kids thrive off consistency. We need at least two people to commit to being there everything Sunday for Sunday School. We need four or five people to volunteer for the rotation in Godly Play. We need a dumpster to clean out all the old stuff that keeps accumulating in the Youth Room. We need everything fixed and in working order just like it is in the new Paris Hall, not new, just working. We need integration of the kids into every level of the Church as full members, not just as cute kids that we can share pictures of and post videos on Facebook. We need to treat them like the members they are and to love them.
When Dawn started on Vestry last year, I stole that line from Abigail Adams when John Adams went off to serve at the Constitutional Convention - I told her to "remember the children". Most at St. Peter's want our church to grow, to add families. That won't happen unless we all put more emphasis into including children into everything we do. They don't need separate programs, they need to be treated like the full members of the church that they are. If we can show the world that we love and value our children, only then will they believe they will love and value theirs as well.
Like I said, that has been a long, lingering hurt. But I hope it starts a good conversation, and I'm asking Mo. Chris to forward this to the Church email list. This is not a problem that falls on one person, or one group, but all of us are complicit. I hope that through love and respect that we can all get to the place where we are of open hearts ready for forgiveness, myself most of all.
Namaste, and Peace and Love in Christ,