Post Author: Sarah Kinney Gaventa
My son is starting Sunday School. Or, rather, my SON is starting SUNDAY SCHOOL!!!! Somehow, my infant child has transformed himself into a fast talking, faster-running 4-year-old. He is all legs and arms and questions now. He’ll creep into our bed around six o’clock in the morning and whisper, “So, Jesus is in my belly?” I blink awake, half dreaming, and try to answer his questions as best I can.
You would think that I, ordained a decade, would feel competent to answer his theological questions. After all, for the first eight years of my ministry, I specialized in children’s ministry. There was nothing I liked better than leading Children’s Worship and talking with small children about God.
And yet, somehow, as I tell my 4-year-old about Jesus’ death and resurrection, as I assure him he does not need to fear death, as I try to explain how Jesus is still alive even though we cannot see him, I find myself craning my neck to see if there is anyone in the room who might tackle these questions with more grace and wisdom than I can.
Thankfully, like anyone else who raises a child within the church, I am not alone.
My son was baptized two years before I began my current call, so the good people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy, Virginia did not actually make any baptismal promises to my child. They did not shout a hearty “We will!” when the priest asked them, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in his life in Christ?” But, they might as well have.
My husband is a Presbyterian pastor, so my son goes back and forth between our two congregations. From the time he was a 2-year-old, adults in both these congregations have been nurturing our child’s faith. My husband’s church recently had communion by intinction, which they rarely do. The chalice bearer approached my son in trepidation, not sure if he could handle this new way of doing communion. But in his first year at my church, my son would often sit with Denise, a loving woman who took him under her wing, and taught him everything about the mechanics of communion. My son, as it turns out, is an expert intincter. And I had nothing to do with it. (But I do take weird clergy mama pride in it. Oh, your son plays the violin? Well mine can INTINCT!)
Denise isn’t the only woman with whom our son sits. At each congregation, a half dozen people have stepped up to be church-friends to Charlie. I have been astonished at the kindness and generosity of people eager to welcome him to their pew, to be part of their family for an hour. They show him the words in the hymnal, help him turn pages in the prayer book, hold his hand, answer his questions. Older children have taken him on as a kind of pet, leading him around and making sure he gets a cookie after church. (I suspect that is the sacrament that children most appreciate about church.) Nursery attendants have created loving spaces for him to run and play, and have sneaked him an M&M every time he successfully used the potty. The rector of the church and his wife, both seminary classmates of mine, provide a clergy presence in his life that is not either of his parents. They also happen to have two delightful children, so my son, an only child, does not lead the potentially lonely life of a PK. (Recently, I brought my son to church without brushing his unruly hair. At the end of the morning, his hair was perfectly in place. When I asked whether a nursery attendant had brushed his hair he indicated his hair had been tamed by my rector’s 4-year-old daughter. She is a very necessary part of my parenting team.)
Now that my son is four, Audi, our children’s minister, will lead him in Children’s Worship. Daniel, our organist, will teach him songs about Jesus he will remember the rest of his life. Elizabeth, Catherine, and others will be his Sunday School teachers. We use the Godly Play curriculum in our church so they will teach him the commandments as they place them carefully in the sandbox. He will learn that he is one of Jesus’ sheep as they unfold the Good Shepherd story. My heart races just thinking about it. There is something bittersweet in all of this for me. A part of me wishes I could play that role in his life, that I could have the pleasure of seeing how he answers an “I wonder. . .” question. And yet, I know this is for the best. God willing, my son will be blessed by my faith. But if I fail, or if he simply cannot separate my fallible motherhood from the God I serve, he will have other faithful people to remember. His family will not be the only people to speak Love in his ear.
Thanks be to God.
Sarah Kinney Gaventa is the associate rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy, Virginia. Her husband, Matthew Gaventa, is pastor at Amherst Presbyterian Church in Amherst, VA. They are beyond grateful for the loving communities they serve.
Image by: Austin Shelley
Used with permission