When I was five years old-and for a few years thereafter-I thought that Jesus had a sister named Nancy.
Every Sunday in my Missouri Synod Lutheran church in blink-and-you-miss-it Roblin, Manitoba, the congregation recited the Apostles' Creed. Sunday after Sunday it was recited, and Sunday after Sunday it seemed to become more mumbled and blurred. Eventually, the lines began to blend and meld into concepts that confused my developing theological brain.
"He ascended into heaven
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.'
Well, "from whence he shall come" started to sound like "Fr nence-hee shall come" which in my mind eventually became "for Nancy shall come to judge the quick and the dead". You can imagine how unpopular I was when I asked my Sunday School teacher to tell us more about Jesus' sister Nancy, how she got to be the judge of everything, and how fast (quick) one needed to be to outrun being part of the "dead". My teacher, thinking I was trying to be smart with her, sent me to sit outside the classroom and memorize scripture.
It was a long time before Nancy ceased to be part of my theological equation.
A friend of mine told me a story a few months ago about a three-year-old being baptized. Apparently he was told something to the effect of "baptism means you become God's child" and it was thought that explanation was sufficient. Well, apparently as the priest leaned over the font to baptize the child, he hollered "I DON'T WANT TO BE GOD'S CHILD!" and flew into hysterics. As all and sundry nearby clergy and lay tried to calm the poor little guy down, it became clear that he believed that being baptized to be God's child meant he had to give up his own parents and family and would be taken away from his parents. How terrifying for this poor child!
I have been thinking a lot about children in church lately. In part, it is because of my involvement in the MAP process at Saint Mary's Kerrisdale. We've been looking a lot at how people of different ages and understandings experience church. When we asked our Sunday School children what they like about church, or why they want to come, many drew pictures of cookies and juice. Others drew hockey sticks and goals - the kind they play with in the gym while their parents are having coffee and fellowship.
In part, it is also the result of looking at my own upbringing in the church. In my family, children had to sing and participate in the liturgy as soon as they could read. We were to stand stock still and NEVER look around or speak. Sunday School was before the service, so we sat through the entire service. During coffee time, we were either to stand politely by our parents' side, or go sit and wait in the car. When we got home, we had to be able to give an account of the three major points of the sermon.
I confess that for a while - even into my adulthood - I still believed that the way I was brought up in the church is the way children should behave in church. They shouldn't fidget. They should be quiet. If they have a question, they should wait until after the service to ask, or at the very least have the decency to whisper it. They should listen to the sermon - what was up with having COLOURING BOOKS or TOYS in church?!
The pictures that the children of Saint Mary's drew really touched me. It really hit home for me that as we adults break bread and drink wine to remember Love incarnate, is not that the same Love that children experience with their juice and cookies? As we exchange handshakes and news and favorite books and laughter in coffee time, is that not what children are doing when they play hockey in the gym?
Recently, I was very privileged to spend some time with retired Archbishop Somerville. It was his push, his passion that first opened the question of children receiving the Eucharist in this Diocese. It was also in his time and with his passion that women were ordained. He told me a story of visiting a parish very shortly after both were first introduced, and he watched as a woman gave communion to a gaggle of little children. In our conversation, I asked him how it felt to see that. He explained his reaction silently by simply nodding, as if to say "Yes. Yes. Your Kingdom come".