The last 18 months have been hard for all of us. The pandemic has upended our way of life. For those of us who are still working, we’ve had to completely rethink how we do our jobs. Here at church, we’ve had to rethink how we worship, how we meet, and how we engage in benevolence work…basically, everything. With long periods of quarantine and shutdowns, we’ve had to get creative about how to stay connected with others. The last year and half has been exhausting, hasn’t it?
Yes, it’s been exhausting…and yet, if we aren’t the parents of young children or teenagers, we don’t have a clue.
Every time I see a family with young children come through those doors, I think: Those are some of the bravest people I know. In the best of times, parenting is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Just when you get the children figured out, they hit a growth spurt and you have to learn how to parent all over again. Yes. Of course. Parenting can be a joyful enterprise, but it’s not for the faint of heart. That’s why God invented grandparenthood.
And, now? Not only do parents have to adjust to all their children’s growth spurts, now they have to think constantly about how to keep them safe from Covid. Remember how frightened we all were when there wasn’t a vaccine? Young children still are unvaccinated. Fear of their catching Covid is always present for parents of young children.
In talking with Cara Pollard, teacher extraordinaire, this week, she told us that the last “normal” year of school for 7th graders–where they went through the entire year in-person–was 4th grade. What that means for Cara’s second graders is that they’ve never experienced that “normal.” “Normal” for them is sometimes meeting at school, sometimes at home…it means sometimes having teachers teach them and sometimes parents, if those parents are able…it means wearing masks and living with the constant fear of infection. Make no mistake. Our children’s education is suffering in the pandemic. Cara, to you and to ALL all the teachers out there who are working so hard on behalf of our children: THANK YOU.
What about our children’s spirituality? That’s been a hard one. We’ve been working to stay connected with our children. Andrew has been meeting almost weekly with our confirmands since the pandemic began. Now that Confirmation is over, regular youth group meetings are happening–all on Zoom. For a long time, Andrew also created weekly Children’s Church videos and hand-delivered Children’s Church packets to the children. Betty Dillashaw has continued her amazing work with our children with chimes and bells. When the children have come to the church building, it’s been because Betty invited them and made it possible.
Seven of us gathered this week, to do some more brainstorming about our ministry with children and their families.
Our staff is beginning to read through our church’s history. The first pastor, Rev. Brainerd Thrall (his picture is outside my office), started a Boy Scout troop and a boys school when he moved from Massachusetts to start our church. From the beginning, this congregation has been committed to working with children.
How do we do that now? When babies are baptized, as a congregation we pledge to nurture them into the faith until they are able to claim the faith for their own. (That’s what happens at Confirmation.) In these days of Covid, in this time of constant shifts in how we do church, how do we honor the covenant we’ve made with our children and their parents to help nurture our children into the faith of following Jesus?
The theme of today’s service– “I arise”–comes from the prayer of St. Patrick. We’ll hear it twice today… when we sing the prayer to the old Irish tune, Bunessan (“Morning Has Broken”) and in the choir’s anthem at the end of the service.
As the story goes, St. Patrick wrote the prayer in the 4th century. (It probably was written in the 8th c…but it’s a good story. 🙂 Patrick had been working to convert people from the indigenous Druid religion to Christianity. That work didn’t please a lot of the kings scattered about Ireland.
On the day he was scheduled to meet with the King of Tara–a most combative man–St. Patrick, the story goes, wrote a lorica or breastplate prayer. Breastplate prayers serve as bubble wrap to protect you from anything that might happen or anyone who might wish to harm you. Here’s part of the one attributed to St. Patrick.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
Thatabout covers it, doesn’t it?
As we reflect on Jesus’ call to welcome children into the community of faith, and as we seek to honor the vows we made at their baptisms to nurture them into Christian faith until they’re able to claim the faith as their own, we might find Celtic spirituality helpful.
Celts treated everyone as a gift from God. Children’s contributions were honored and received as an essential part of the community. We can welcome children like that.
Celtic spirituality is tactile; it isn’t a faith of the head only. Celtic spirituality is about encountering every thing and every person with our whole being. The tactile nature of Celtic spirituality makes it especially welcoming to children, concrete thinkers that they are. We don’t only engage our faith internally. Faith happens somewhere in the alchemy between material reality–including creation–and our inner lives. We can help children make those connections.
Celts also prayed for everything, like, everything. There were prayers for making the bed in the morning, prayers for making a cup of tea, prayers for hanging out the wash, prayers for working the field. While I was writing this sermon, I had a flood in the bathroom. If I look hard enough, there’s probably a Celtic prayer for that, too.
We, too, can help children see that of God in every aspect of our lives. We, too, can get out of our heads and worship God with all of who we are, with all of our bodies and emotions and spirits and intellect. We can do that for our children.We can do it for ourselves.
And maybe we can pray some bubble wrap prayers for our children every morning…pray for Christ to be with them, before them, behind them, in them, beneath them, above them, on their right, on their left, when they lie down, when they sit down, in the heart of everyone who thinks of them, in the mouth of everyone who speaks of them, in the eye that sees them, in the ear that hears them…