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Connecting Home and Church

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Connecting Home and Church

Part 1

“Child of God, your loving Parent, Learn to listen for God’s call.
      Grow to laugh and sing and worship, Trust and love God more than all.”

—Stanza 4 of Child of Blessing, Child of Promise,
p. 498 in Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs

BaptismWhen I hear the words of the hymn, I think of my own baptism and the baptisms of my daughters. The hymn shares the prayer of blessing I felt deeply for our children. Laura was baptized in Oklahoma and Leanah, in Hohenwald, TN. Despite the number of miles that stood between the places of our children’s baptism and this congregation, as soon as our family walked through the doors of CPCG, you took those promises on as your own. During the months we were expecting the birth of our children, the church encouraged us and offered their loving support. Given the fact that both pregnancies were considered high risk, I had certain reservations about the outcome. The congregations offered prayers and encouragement on our behalf helping to ease our concerns. In each case we prayed for our children by name. This verse became my mantra, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5a)

We in this church family respond to the concerns of expectant parents with prayers and expressions of support. It might be in the form of a baby shower or a loving, supportive conversation or a prayer.

The occasion of the sacrament of baptism of our own children was a mixture of soaring joy and the overwhelming knowledge of the significance of the promises we make as a parent at baptism. I took comfort in the fact that we do not find ourselves alone in carrying out these promises. We have the congregation side by side with us.

The baptismal waters give us a connection to God and our church. The bowl that contains the water in our church sanctuary is an ordinary bowl which is transformed into the extraordinary in the sacrament of baptism. Those refreshing waters remind us of our own baptism. The water serves as a sign of God’s love and care for each of us as a child of the covenant.

With the baptism of each child of our church family, I respond in affirmation with the rest of the congregation as we promise to teach and care for the child as a member of the church family. We take our promises seriously. You have demonstrated that countless ways as you have provided a loving, nurturing environment for my own children. As a previous Director of Christian Education for our church, I was often overwhelmed as these promises were made—overwhelmed with the presence of God and the love and care of our congregation for its children.

Bob Bush has a special relationship with many of the children and youth. He welcomes them in the door and treats them as his own grandchildren. Nursery caregivers create a loving and safe environment for our youngest. Sunday school teachers, children/youth leaders, VBS leaders and mentors through the years have kept the promises of baptism. People like Dudley Condron give words of encouragement and support. Cathy Flanigan keeps her keys at the ready to provide transportation. Brian and Jean Ellen Sisson and others open their homes to our children and youth. There is no way to name all of the gifts shared with children of the covenant by our church family.

We have reminded our children of the stories of their baptism. They are reminded to remember that they are a child of God. Our prayer for them as a teen and tween is “Child of God, your loving Parent, Learn to listen for God’s call. Grow to laugh and sing and worship, Trust and love God more than all.”

Part 2

“How happy is the family Who honors God above!
The Lord shall send all help and grace To bless your home with love.
May God’s great peace, good health, and joy Forever fill you home;
May you and your descendants know Forever God’s shalom!”

—Stanzas 3 & 4 of How Happy Is Each Child of God 
p. 239 in Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs

FamilyAt times it seems family life is so busy that it only happens in snippets like commercial breaks. There have been days when I’ve only seen Laura for five minutes due to her busy schedule.

I have a friend who planned regular interactive family devotions for her young family. She celebrated the day of each child's baptism in a special way by lighting a candle that was used at their baptism. When our children were born, I had grand plans of doing the same thing. But, the only time I seemed to be able to make it happen was at the family dinner table. We manage to eat together three or four nights a week.

One year at CPCG we did “Table Talk” jars providing slips of paper to be drawn from the jar with conversation ideas. This was a very meaningful time for our family. Insights were shared that were like priceless gifts for each of us. CPCG supports families not just by providing resources and support but by making it clear family time is important so only participate in those ministries that do not interfere with said family time. I’ve known some congregations that have expectations of participation so that family time is compromised.

Spending time with extended family is a priority for us. On these visits the television is rarely on which gives us more time to do simple things together. We end up sitting around the table for long periods of time sharing family stories. These stories are family faith stories. The stories are being passed on to another generation.

As the girls have grown up we have not lived close to family so these visits have been special times. In each place we have lived we connected with a family in the church who adopted us as their own. The girls have had people who acted as grandparents showering them with love and attention. They’ve continued to listen and support them even after we moved to a new location.

As Robert and I recall the years with our children, it seems some of the most meaningful parenting encounters have happened in the plain everyday experiences. The plain became the extraordinary teaching moments. We were often the ones doing the learning.

Our Confession of Faith (the belief statement of our denomination) states “God created the family as the primary community in which persons experience love, companionship, support, protection, discipline, encouragement, and other blessings.”

Family comes in all kinds of shapes and configurations. Single parent, multiple parents, single children, multiple children the family unit has innumerable ways of being configured. There are families with individuals of physical and/or mental challenges. This has changed not only my life, but the way we “do” family. As our family has changed, the church has changed the ways it nurtures and supports us.

Our congregation is involved in our presbytery’s (regional area of Cumberland Presbyterian congregations) ministries. One year Robert and Laura went on a Presbyterial Mission Trip together. Robert and the other adults modeled for the younger participants what it means to do missions. This seemed to plant the seeds for her response to the call to missions such as her interest in helping others through the Burrito Ministry. Leanah and I have visited others and this seems to have helped plant the seeds for her expressions of caring. God calls each of us in different ways and as parents we can support our children as they try out different ways of responding to God’s call.

Robert and I felt called to be parents. We may be a bit over-protective as we seek a safe environment for our children. We taught them about respecting guns, drugs, alcohol and sex—all the big ticket items so to speak. The conversations have happened often and in different ways. But, the most time has been spent nurturing their faith life and helping guide them as children of God.

I’m coming to appreciate the spiritual aspects of letting go and giving our children space to become adults. Laura will be leaving for college in a few weeks. Like many families, we have been planning for this as the next step after high school. Her leaving home opens many new doors and responsibilities for her. We pray we have provided her with what she needs to live as a Christian woman. The church has helped and supported our family (as it does every family) as she has been nurtured in the faith.

God has sent “all help and grace to bless our home with love.”

Part 3

The Role of the Church in Connecting Home/Church and Nurturing

Called as partners in Christ's service, Called to ministries of grace,
We respond with deep commitment Fresh new lines of faith to trace.
May we learn the art of sharing, Side by side and friend with friend,
Equal partners in our caring To fulfill God's chosen end.
    —Stanza 1 of Called as Partners in Christ's Service,
p. 343 in Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs

peopleEach time I sing this hymn, I hear something new that challenges me as part of the church. It is one of my favorite hymns because it reminds us we are to respond to our faith in concrete ways as partners in Christ's service. Each of us has a role to play in the church family. We are called to offer times for Christian nurture, help people become disciples of Christ, support families and give opportunities for families to be together.

This is one of the strengths of our church family. People connect with each other across the generations offering love and support. You can look at the congregation on any given Sunday and see it happening. In Sunday school, children and youth groups, and small groups, persons experience Christian nurture helping them become disciples of Christ. At church dinners and other social events, you can see people sharing their stories with one another. It happens during the week whether by phone call, visit or social networking online. People care for each other and they express that care. We continually gain new insights into the art of sharing.

There are families like the Prices who have modeled parenting for me. And if I ask, they'll even share their insights with me to help my journey in parenting to go a bit smoother. There are those like Michelle Brown who have listened to my concerns about my family and encouraged me during the rough patches. Awok Wek is gifted in the art of encouragement; she shares her special smile and offers the gift of grace.

It is amazing to me how Facebook has become a place where I experience a connection with our church family as we share and celebrate the ordinary and extraordinary daily events that make up who we are as families. This week I saw Anna's excitement as she left for the first day of school. Hearing Braxton and Thatcher's questions and observations are indeed holy moments.

Laura took Leanah to a school book sale and they came home with a book for me. The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison chronicles the author's family life as her sons near college age. Kenison and her son Jack were out walking their dog and she observed that Gracie (the dog) was programmed to fetch. Jack asked Kenison what she was programmed for. She responded without missing a beat, "Nurturing." I resonated with Kenison as I read the book. Here's an excerpt:

"After years of striving, caring, trying so graduatediligently to create a family life, to make a home, to tend our hearth, the end of all that labor is in plain sight. It's funny now, to realize how I lived my life for so long, and poured myself into the work of raising children, without ever thinking much about where we were headed, even as my sons were growing up and changing before my eyes. But now here we are, in the homestretch of high school, with one son about to graduate and the other pushing hard against me, harder than I ever could have imagined.

I must remind myself these days that life is what it is, wonderful and heartrending all at once, and that my two children are doing exactly what they should be doing—rebelling and leaving… The only question now is how gracefully will I be able to step aside and allow them to become the adults they are meant to be… Perhaps it really is as simple as those words: “Mend the part of the world that’s within your reach.” It’s all I can hope to do anyway. It may just turn out to be enough. “Mend the part of the world that’s within your reach.” Maybe that’s what it really means to be “Called as Partners in God’s Service.”

—Donna Heflin