Last week, I caught my children playing “church” in the backyard — a game I used to play as a child, too. I watched inconspicuously so they wouldn’t see me.
My son Benjamin was pretending to be Pastor Stephen, who serves as our senior adult minister at University Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. Ruthie, our middle child, was Ms. Brooke, who is our interim minister to children and families. Pretending he was standing behind a pulpit, Benjamin shouted: “We have failed to love you with our whole hearts. We have not been an obedient church. Forgive us, we pray.”
I told my colleagues the next day that I caught my children reciting a portion of our weekly prayer of confession. I thought it was adorable, and it was, that they were pretending to be pastors and were shouting our liturgy to the grass and trees.
My wise and profound friend Stephen, though, caught the deeper significance of the moment. He said to me: “It’s exciting to think about a generation that grows up from that early in their spiritual formation knowing that the church can be ‘not obedient.’ I think for most of us, memories of that time in our lives are more along the lines of the church being able to do no wrong.”
As I’ve sat with it, I’ve realized what a gift it is that my children are learning early on that the church makes mistakes and that it needs to ask for forgiveness. Like Stephen, I, too, didn’t know the church could do wrong when I was a child. My thoughts of God and the church were almost one in the same, which made for some difficult theological deconstruction when I got older. I’m reminded now of the words of St. Augustine which I read once in seminary: “The church is ever and always, both, fallen and redeemed.”
I’ve discovered in my 10 years of ministry that the church can either be in the healing business or the hurting business. And as hard as we try to be a place that heals, we will inevitably hurt people, because we’re fallen too. Hopefully, this early knowledge will prepare my children to confess often, ask for forgiveness, and live more fully into their redeemed selves. It gives me hope for the future of the church.
“If you have children, I hope you’ll bring them to worship. And if they act like hooligans, don’t worry.”
As a side note, my children are very untamed in worship. I’m a female minister who is also a mother. It’s a hard thing to balance, particularly on Sunday mornings when I sit on a chancel and watch their “misbehavior” from a distance. I often leave the service frustrated by their commotion and, truthfully, a little (well, maybe a lot) embarrassed. Shouldn’t the pastors’ children be the best behaved?
But now, after having witnessed their backyard “church” play, and having pondered its significance, I’m realizing that they’re like sponges, soaking up every word we proclaim. Slowly but surely, they’re being shaped by our liturgy, whether we’re aware of it or not, and it’s molding them into who I hope they will inevitably become. What a gift.
So, if you have children, I hope you’ll bring them to worship. And if they act like hooligans, don’t worry. The pastor’s kids do too. And together, week after week, we’ll confess our disobedience.
Victoria Robb Powers serves as executive pastor at University Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.