“Although I never found a church where I felt completely at home again, I made a new home in the world. I renewed my membership in the priesthood of all believers, who may not have as much power as we would like, but whose consolation prize is the freedom to meet God after work, well away from all centers of religious command, wherever God shows up.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith
Lots of things are swirling around in my head. At times, it is overwhelming to hone in on one particular thought or experience. For the last half of this week, I participated in the Great Plains Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Next week, I will spend a couple of days in training for my new job as a school counselor. I have worked inside the church walls for over 20 years. In six weeks I will embark on working, as we say in the UMC– “beyond the church walls” in the world. These two worlds are very similar (the institution of education and the institution of church). Money is always moving and shaking the reality of the institutions. Power and authority are the name of the game, and whoever holds the power and authority shapes the direction.
This year at annual conference I carried with me another perspective…..the perspective of the child. As I think back on what we spent time on, I realized I was looking at things with child-like eyes. I know you might think I am a bit crazy (and that is true to a degree), but I thought about the children I had counseled over the last six months and wondered……..well, I wondered lots of things.
While in the church, pining away at finding volunteers to teach the children who came through our doors (which is important I know because I have spent the last 20 years doing just that ), I came to realize that as important as that ministry is, it no longer held the joy and energy it once did.
I also realized, science has greatly broadened my understanding of children and thus can see where as a church we are missing the boat (in fact the boat is filled to capacity and overflowing, and we are still stuck on the shore). Yes, as Annual Conference we are involved with organizations that work with and for children, such as public education, child welfare, and human trafficking (UMW) to name a few. All of this is important and great work! But as always, new arenas await the church and sometimes the church is a very slow moving vessel.
So what has science taught me about the faith development of our children? Our brains develop early in life and neurons that fire together stay together and lots of these connections are made early in life usually by the time a child is five. ALL of a child’s experiences shape the brain. In other words, we are experienced based people. How we view reality is based on our understanding of our experience. It is a scientific fact.The implications of that for the church is that if we don’t broaden our faith experiences within the context of early faith formation experiences for children, than we have missed critical years as a church. And yet, in most of our churches (not just in our denomination only) we exclude children from the ritual of church. Thus, we exclude them from having religious experiences that can build resilience.
in thinking back on the kids I saw in my office over the last six months, as a church we don’t do well with mental dis-ease. In fact, we don’t do well with squirmy or squirrelly people in our midst (children and/or adults). All the children I saw and did play therapy with were with me because they were struggling with a multitude of issues–domestic violence, grief, depression, abuse, foster care, gender confusion, poverty, immigration, trauma, suicidal thoughts, and the list can go on. (Please note, I work with elementary children).
I would love to believe the church is having an impact on children who are facing challenges such as these, but as I sat in the sessions I realized, this is an area of uncharted territory for the church. God has called me to live on the edge and like every other institution, the church believes strongly in self-preservation. Earlier I shared the quote from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor. Like Barbara, I have realized I need to move beyond the church walls to be wherever God shows up. And whenever a child is around, God shows up!!!! God has called me to enter into the chaotic lives of children whose daily realities are about survival, not only in school but in the world. I am leaving behind the walls of the church to live on the edge, working with those who the church is not quite ready for, and enjoying the God who will show up each and every day in the form of a child.