In my small Mennonite congregation, when the worship leader says, “Go in peace,” the children go directly to the snack counter. Sure it's almost lunch time, but we will eat something anyway—for the sake of Christian fellowship.
Some parents quietly request healthy snacks; but, nevertheless, cookies and brownies often appear on the magic snack table. I understand that parents want their children to eat healthy food. I understand that they want their children to eat lunch some time in the near future.
But you have to understand how absolutely adorable 2-year-old Sheila is when she looks up at me and says, “Cookie, please?”. I'm the child's pastor, for goodness sake. I want her to trust me. I want her to experience church as a good place to be. I want her to believe me when I read from the Bible, “Ask and ye shall receive.”
So I look around. No parents are watching. I sneak her a cookie.
And she's not the only one. Pretty much any kid at my church can get extra snack from me—provided I have not heard explicit parental orders to the contrary.
Pretty much any kid. Just not James, Jasmine, or Grace. They're mine. And trust me, they get enough sugar as it is. And there's chicken in the crock pot at home.
Last Sunday we had donut holes. My 12-year-old son's eyes got wide when he saw them piled high on the plates, sugar and glaze glistening under the florescent lights. “You can have two,” I announced to him as he reached eagerly toward the bounty.
My twelve-year-old son, who can eat half a pizza, was allowed to have two donut holes. And that’s when I realized that I am not as nice to my own children as I am to the other church kids.
I am not tickled by their witty—if off-topic—comments during children's time. I do not crouch down to smile at them and shake their hands during the passing of the peace. I hesitate to give them the microphone if they want to share a joy or concern. And I most certainly do not give them benevolent smiles when they are speaking in a too-loud whisper during the prayer.
I am their mom. At home and at church.
Which means, of course, that I am not their pastor. Not really. Not in the same way I am pastor to the other children that race to the snack counter after the benediction.
Part of my hope in forming positive relationships with the children at church is that they will come to trust me—and even like me. I want to be someone Sheila can turn to when she’s fifteen and her boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex and she can’t imagine talking to her mom. When Daniel is a high school senior struggling with his faith and too cool to have a heart-to-heart with his mom, I hope he’ll let me take him out for ice cream and talk about it.
And now I’m starting to wonder . . . who will my children turn to when faced with a moral crisis? Who will take them out for ice cream and talk about God’s love and grace in a non-dorky way?
I want the words of blessing that I speak to the children each Sunday to sink deep into their souls. I want those words to be untainted by harsh words I may have spoken to them about, just as an example, their failure to keep socks in pairs for longer than a week after purchase.
So last Sunday I watched my son with his two donut holes and began to wonder, who will speak the pure, pastoral words of blessing to his soul? Who will be the steadfast and loving voice of grace in his life?
Our small congregation does well to pay my part-time salary. We do not have a pastoral staff. And so I cling to my faith in the priesthood of all believers. I think of Barbara, who went shopping with Jasmine for a fancy dress. Of Rod, who brings fossils to church to show James. Of Anne, who took all of the kids out for ice cream when their grandfather died and my husband and I needed to pack for the trip to South Dakota.
I cannot be both mom and pastor to my children. But I trust that those I pastor will in turn offer the pastoral guidance and grace to my children that I cannot offer.
And I trust that someone, when I wasn’t looking, snuck James a few extra donut holes last Sunday.