After I dismissed the elementary students to Children’s Church on Sunday, I realized that I had forgotten to count heads before they left. Eager not to get on the bad side of the church statistician, after a quick stop outside the infant nursery to pick up a straggling first grader, I hustled after them to the Annex to make sure I got an accurate count. Both on my way there and on my way back, I passed through the lower elementary class, engaged in a lesson-along-the-way; as I did, I caught snippets of teacher Michael Johnson’s conversation with the students. The last piece I heard went something like this: “Let’s stop walking here again for a minute. Okay, so then the disciples said, ‘Are you Elijah?’ Was Jesus Elijah?” Nooooo, came the chorus of six-, seven-, and eight-year-old voices.
And then I hoofed it back to the sanctuary. After another quick stop in the toddler nursery–all snacking happily–I got back to my seat just a few minutes into Bishop Terrell’s sermon. With apologies to Bishop Terrell for the lack of accuracy to my quotation, the first thing I heard was something like this: “And then they asked him, ‘Are you Elijah?’ These guys just didn’t get it.”
Do you have a lower elementary student in your family? If you do, maybe you already heard from him about what his class learned this Sunday. (If you didn’t, ask him if he remembers!) But if you aren’t the parent of a student in that class, you might not even think to wonder what those children are up to. This year, our first, second, and third graders are working with a new curriculum called Feasting on the Word, and even as they leave the sanctuary while we’re listening to the lectionary readings for the morning, they head to their classroom to study those very same readings.
It has always been a priority in our ministry to children at All Saints to provide much more than babysitting. In all three levels of Children’s Church–and even, to the extent that the children are able to understand it, in our toddler nursery–we strive every week to provide not only substantial teaching, but teaching that aligns with what we’re doing as a body in the church as a whole. So whether that looks like setting the communion table with preschoolers and kindergarteners in the Atrium, reading the lectionary with lower elementary students, or encouraging upper elementary students to wrestle with how their Bible story for the week should show up in their lives at school (and maybe you’ve heard a sermon or two that encourages you to think similarly?), know that our children are doing so much more than just staying busy while we’re engrossed in the sermon.
“Picking up one’s cross” is not accepting just any burden, but rather being prepared to put one’s life on the line for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. The disciples are indeed called to be prepared to share in the fate of the one they follow, and to recognize that it is there that true life is found.
Were you paying attention to the sermon on Sunday? Do you recognize the idea quoted above? Do you remember Bishop Terrell talking about what it really means to “pick up your cross”? If so, you may be surprised to learn that the above quotation isn’t from the sermon at all; it’s from the lower elementary curriculum teacher prep materials from this Sunday. I think that’s pretty exciting.
So when the children return to the service, often worshipping joyfully with their voices and bodies (yes, that’s my toddler dancing in the aisle), maybe we can take a lesson from that, too, for a change: if we’ve truly heard the good news in all our careful listening while the children were gone, how can we do anything other than rejoice along with them when they come back?