Rev. Michaele LaVigne
It’s pretty clear to us that living the way of Jesus includes being good and useful neighbors. And we have many neighbors – and most of them we don’t know yet. But we believe firmly that being good and useful neighbors must begin first with the neighbors we do know, and especially the neighbors among us who are the most vulnerable.
So we will be good and useful neighbors to the children in our church and in our city!
“Repeat them again and again to your children”
This has been a central theme for the people of God for a long, long time. The Shema, one of the best-known and most important portions of the Hebrew scriptures, gives very clear instructions about investing in future generations. The command is clear: don’t forget what the Lord has done for you. And don’t let future generations forget either!
It’s a strong command, but it’s not just for parents. Family in that culture wasn’t limited to Mom and Dad or even grandparents. A more accurate translation is “household” or even “community” or “faith community.” It could read, “teach these things to your children, Ya’ll.” Because these children are “all-ya’all’s children”!
Have we abandoned our children?
This is a struggle for us in 21st century America. We don’t value our children collectively or see them as the future of our community. Now you might say, “we love our kids!” And yes, we do generally love our own kids. But as a culture, as communities, we don’t love our kids for the sake of kids or for the sake of the collective whole. And we don’t do such a good job of valuing the kids who don’t belong to us. (Although I love how Glennon Melton puts it – “there is no such thing as other peoples’ children.”)
Our culture values rugged individualism and isolationism, and over time it seems these values have led us, as a cultural system, to abandon the young.
Today kids are welcomed when and if -- they perform well enough to be accepted.
Today children are welcomed when and if -- they conform to others’ expectations.
Today teenagers are welcomed when and if -- they portray an image that is pleasing.
We see this in our education system, in sports and recreation, in families, and sadly even in our churches. It’s important for us to know this about ourselves, because we want to learn from our own mistakes.
Being Good and Useful Neighbors for our Kids
It is our collective responsibility to care for our kids and tell them the stories of God that shape us. We want to include them, to teach them, to celebrate them, and to love them well.
So we will not push them to the edges or hand them off to someone else. Nor will we expect them to be someone they are not. They are kids -- and they are great! And isn’t that exactly who Jesus said had this kingdom of Heaven thing figured out anyway (Luke 18.16)?
In the last six months, we have watched a small group of dedicated volunteers teach, play, rock, sing, and change diapers with our youngest parishioners every week. Their work is crucial to the mission of our church and to the spiritual formation of our kids. Our small church is also full of educators, counselors, and advocates for children. We recognize that although they may be caring for kids outside of our church community, they are caring for our kids. We are grateful for them, and we celebrate the real and good work they do!
As we pray and plan for the future, there are three steps we see as necessary to being the best neighbors we can be for our kids. Please pray with us about these things.
- We will focus on the intentional spiritual formation of our youngest children, ages 0-5. We already have volunteer teachers and nursery workers who are doing a great job every week! We know they absorb more at this age than we realize, and we want to use every means possible to help them know what it means to live the way of Jesus.
- We will focus on the intentional spiritual formation of our elementary age kids, 1st-5th graders. We have kids of these ages in our worship services every week, and we have a children’s sermon for them once a month. We want to continue to find ways to engage our kids in service and find creative and meaningful ways for them to learn what it means to live the way of Jesus.
- We will find ways to be good neighbors to the children of our city. Oklahoma City’s kids are in need of relationships, food, education, and safety, and there are many agencies and ministries doing great work in these areas. We are praying for God’s guidance as we look for our church’s specific role, whether that be through foster care, educational advocacy, after school programs, or something else.
In order to do what we want and need to do, we are also praying for a ministry leader in this area. The children of our church and our city are important enough that we want someone whose time and attention is dedicated to them. Our kids belong to all of us, but we are praying for a leader who will advocate for our kids and help our congregation care for them like we want to.
Please join us in praying for these things. And as you do, know that you are not just helping us live into our mission, you also are being good and useful neighbors to the children of our church and our city!