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Jesus reminds us that children have a special place in the Kingdom of God. We need to remember this and treasure them as part of the church, not just the future of the church.
The children were crowding around the baptismal font, trying to get their shells in the water at the same time. A couple of the older children stood in the back, waiting patiently, but finally managed to squeeze their way to the glass bowl, where they dipped their shells in and shook the water off on each other. These shells are extra special as they have been gathered by the CEH family from all over the US and even around the world. The children pray over a shell, promising to look upon the newly baptized as part of their family. Then we place the shells in a glass jar or, for our older newly baptized, into a wooden bowl lovingly made by Gary Perkins.
Our new shell tradition was taking on special meaning Sunday, as each child held two shells: one for the precious toddler, Vivian; and one for our precious college student, Iris.
Iris was baptized as an infant, and wondered about being baptized again. In our Reformed Theology, we understand baptism to be a one-time only thing. As Iris and I talked about it a couple of weeks ago, I promised her we could help her “remember her baptism” and give her some special memories about joining CEH.
This is something that we should all be “remembering” every time we celebrate baptism, and even weekly when we gather for confession around our baptismal font. As most Christians raised in a main-line denomination were baptized as infants, not many of us can actually remember it. So after I poured the warm-ish water over Vivian’s curly brown hair, I sprinkled Iris as well.
“Remembering” your baptism is important. What we remember is that, in the Presbyterian Church, we understand the sacrament as “an outward sign of an inward change.” Something wonderful and mystical happens as we join our voices together to promise our attention to the raising of the child and their faith development. It isn’t just the parents and the family that make a promise on that day, the whole congregation promises to welcome the newly baptized into our church family and invest our lives in them.
When you look around CEH, you’ll notice our children are taking ownership in our ministry and mission. That’s because over the past three years we have moved our emphasis from having a children’s and youth ministry that function separately from the church, to intergenerational ministry where our young children and youth serve alongside the adults on a weekly basis.
Studies have shown that one of the main indicators in why our young adults are not returning to church when they start their careers and families is because as children themselves, they experienced instruction and activities that were separated from the perceived whole church. In worship they were told to be quiet and sit still; some were even taken out of the service and removed after making “too much noise.” What we are witnessing after nearly 60 years of doing things the same way, is that those children never felt like they were a true part of the ministry of the church and couldn’t see themselves engaged. Some people have even told me that they felt like they were always “in the way” as children growing up in Church.
So we celebrate that at CEH, our adults are already invested in the lives of our children. It isn’t rare to see a child helping to pick up plates or sweep during fellowship, or to see a child working with an adult to set up the communion or greet at the front door. This is really living out God’s dream of shalom. We remember that Jesus told us to do this in Matthew 18: Let the little children come to me. . . For such is the kingdom of heaven.” And “Unless you enter the kingdom as a child, you just don’t get it!” (That’s the New Revised Paula Version). So not only do we walk alongside and teach our children, we take it a step further by listening to them and learning from them so that, through their beautiful spirits, open hearts, and eyes full of wonder, we can learn more about our Creator and draw closer to God.
Sunday was momentous for our congregation for another reason as well. We experienced Shalom as we welcomed new members into our family. Lee Anderson, Iris Barks, Amber Butterfield, George Dennison, Amy & Greg Hoover, Carolyn Sunderland, Adam & Tara Walker, and Kent and Debbie Wehmeyer stood before the congregation to “Reaffirm their Baptism” and become members of CEH. What a joy to see a group as diverse in age as we witnessed on Sunday! I completely believe that there is no other place in our culture that is building bridges between the generations right now, and that when we do so we are creating the perfect environment for living in Shalom!
Thank you for being willing to participate as we continue to practice worship, faith development, mission work, generosity and hospitality with our children, always ready to learn something wonderful about God even as we learn more about each other.