This summer, my boy turned four. He has quickly changed from a toddler to a preschooler. His features are changing, his vocabulary is growing, his interests are becoming more refined.
And he is learning to sit in big church.
At our church, nursery is available for children under the age of four. I am forever grateful for this group of faithful volunteers who steward our children – who taught Henry that church is a fun place to be, and that there are people there who genuinely care about him. Those are invaluable lessons with no price tag.
So you can imagine my trepidation as his fourth birthday approached. He was going to have to sit still and quiet through an entire worship service, something he had never done before. And I was going to be responsible for this paradigm change. I kept reminding myself that other kids make this same transition, and no one has died in the process. Yet.
Our church continues the tradition of a Sunday evening service, a much smaller and slightly shorter version of Sunday morning. We decided to introduce Henry to this service a few weeks before his birthday, before the date he would officially be moved out of the nursery.
I didn’t anticipate we would be taking communion.
I did my best to explain to my boy that everyone else would be taking a little piece of bread and a little cup, but that he would not be able to do so until some day in the future when he is baptized. As the day wore on, I dreaded the time to leave for church. But I put my big-girl pants on and took him anyway (I seriously thought about staying home and avoiding the whole thing, but decided we would have to face this eventually).
He was perfect. He was curious, but behaved better than I could have imagined. As we sat through the service, as my small boy watched this holy sacrament, and as we sang old hymns of the faith, I was struck with the enormity of it all.
I’m not just teaching my child to sit still and be quiet until the hour is up and we can go home. I am teaching him to participate in a community of believers that spans the entirety of human history. He is learning to add his voice to the Story, a story that we pray will someday lead to his own redemption.
He is singing some of the same old hymns as his great-grandparents. He is singing new hymns that may someday be sung by his own grandchildren. He is participating in the sacraments that Jesus instituted during His time on earth. He is learning the ancient words of Holy Scripture, the same words that inspired Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon and a host of theologians and missionaries to give their lives and work to God’s service.
Teaching Henry to sit in church is more than just teaching behavior, although that is certainly a part of it, and something that I believe children need to do. This is by no means a seamless transition, and some weeks are easier than others. But I believe that I am teaching him to be a part of something bigger and grander than he can yet imagine.
He is learning to be the Church.