stone cross on ball with spiderwebs

We are Three

stone cross on ball with spiderwebs

The question of “how many siblings do you have” became complicated in French class: how do you say, “I have one living sibling” en français?

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

-from “We Are Seven” by William Wordsworth


This year, 2019, National Siblings Day occurred the week before Holy Week. National Siblings Day is, many suspect, a holiday completely made up by social media companies in order for people to get on whatever profile they use and post more photos of users who happen to be related. It’s like the 21st century equivalent of a “Hallmark Holiday” – made for the purpose of a company proliferating itself; some people find it meaningful or fun, others let it pass by unnoticed.

To be honest, I don’t take much notice of it. I see other people posting about it throughout the day, and I realize what’s being celebrated.

I live 1500 miles from my immediate family, in my first church call, which I share with my spouse. In this digital age, I have not been at my parents’ house long enough in the last few years to scan the thousands of pictures of me and my brother and sister when we were young: big glasses whose glare hides eyes from the camera, graphic T-shirts that are entirely too big, hair that is untidily coifed in strange hairdos from a bygone era.

For many the connection between Siblings Day and Holy Week are coincidental.
For me, they are building toward a painful, hopeful climax.
You see, we buried my brother on Good Friday.

As a theologically-minded person from a young age, I marked my springtime by Holy Week and Easter usually involving a huge church play each Holy Weekend. At college, there were different traditions, and I was looking forward to entering them.

When I was 20 years old, the Monday of Holy Week my brother was killed in a car accident. I wonder if Jesus felt like I did, going toward Good Friday: that it was simultaneously the longest and shortest week of my life. Everything was askew, my feelings dulled and heightened. I missed both Holy Week rituals: the Easter play at my childhood church, AND the Tenebrae that was taking place at my college. The question of “how many siblings do you have” became complicated in French class: how do you say, “I have one living sibling” en français? Read more

When Love Blurs

Helms and her husband, Greg, lead weekly “devos” from their home for neighborhood youth at QC Family Tree.

I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but let me tell you about my favorite. I met her ten years ago. Her brother was an active member of our neighborhood youth group. He’d walk a few blocks from his house to ours to hang out or participate in an activity. Then, he moved. Their new house was only a mile away and it was important to us that we kept our connection, so one of us would volunteer regularly to go and pick him up for activities. I hadn’t before spent much time at his house, but now I was making several trips a week to his front door.

I wasn’t sure who’d answer the door when I knocked. There were six siblings, a parent, and often a friend of the family staying there. After a few visits, I learned to expect that she and her little sister would be the ones to greet me. I took this front door opportunity to introduce myself and strike up a conversation. Then, I simply asked, “Would you like to go with us?” The girls looked sheepishly back at their mother. Once they got the nod to go ahead, they bounded out the door with excitement and a tad bit of nervousness.

After a short time living away from the neighborhood, the family moved back. Ten years later and these girls have become family. Some seasons in our relationship, we have gone only a few hours between visits. They’ve gone on just about every youth trip, babysat my children, taken care of our dog and house when we were away, listened intently as I’ve preached sermons, gone with us on family vacations, and have nurtured me in some of my most tender moments.

You know the blurry line of being in ministry and being in relationship? Nature or nurture – we’re taught to set boundaries. We’re not supposed to fall in love with the ones to whom we minister. Some might advise refraining even from friendships with congregants. Yet, we’re called to a ministry of love and authenticity. Plus, we are humans who have a deep capacity and desire to love and be loved. This makes boundaries tricky to set and keep. Read more

Celebrating The Longest Relationship

Over the trajectory of our lives, what are the longest and most enduring relationships we are likely to experience?  With our parents?  Our partner?  Our children?  For those of us who are not ‘only’ children, the longest relationships we are likely to hold are those with our sisters and brothers.  Siblings are perhaps the most significant repositories of our life stories outside of ourselves and those other intimate and key relationships we create and nurture for ourselves.  Who else has memory of early years, growing up, young adulthood, who observes our forming loving partnerships with another, who might be appointed a guardian of our own children should the unthinkable occur and who holding all this story will accompany a person into old age?  While some friendships do endure for life, many arise either for a reason or for a season.  While some families do become estranged, it is unusual for a person to lose contact entirely with their sisters and brothers.

Both realising this reality and arising from a pastoral wish to involve all members of a family, it has long been a regular practice of mine to offer the option of a promise or set of promises for older siblings to make when a baby is brought to church and welcomed into the Christian community at baptism or dedication.  It has never felt pastorally comfortable (to me) when older brothers and sisters are left on the sidelines of the church’s liturgy, with more emphasis on the role of godparents than on the longest relationship the baby is likely to experience and enjoy.

Celebrating the Longest Relationship PhotoThis particular set of affirmations was prepared for a nine year old girl, Holly, to make at the baptism of Daisy, her younger sister.  It accompanies A Service for Infant Baptism written by Alan Paterson and published by The United Reformed Church, Additional Material, ‘Worship: from The United Reformed Church’ (London: The United Reformed Church, 2004).

Affirmations for an older sister



We read in the Bible of sisters and brothers

some who were together friends of Jesus,

the fishermen James and John

Mary, Martha and Lazarus,

whose home he visited.

We hear of others,

Moses, Miriam and Aaron

who journeyed together

even though they

did not know exactly

where they were going.

Holly, will you try

to always be a friend and helper to Daisy?



I will



We heard too in the Bible

about some sisters and brothers

who did not get on so well together;

of Jacob who took

what belonged to his brother Esau,

and of Joseph of the amazing coat

whose brothers

sold him to a foreign land.

Holly, when Daisy annoys you

or when you don’t agree

on what is right,

will you try to be patient and understanding?



I will



We celebrate the stories of the times

sisters and brothers helped each other

to know Jesus for themselves.

The Gospel writers remembered

how Andrew introduced

his brother Simon to Jesus

and how brothers James and John

followed Jesus’ call together.

Holly, will you try to follow the example of Jesus’ friends

and will you share with Daisy

everything that you have learned here at chapel

about how Jesus invites all of us to follow him

and will you look forward to a time

when you and Daisy can learn about

God, family and community together?



I will

puppies playing tug of war with a knotted rope on the grass

Sibling Rivalry