Pa lifts Laura, 1994

In a post entitled An Army of Grandparents, Christian educator Christina Embree cites studies showing that grandparents have a strong influence over their grandchildren’s faith development, an influence second only to the children’s parents.  In some cases that influence actually increases with time.  She writes:

“I learned that if grandparents talked about their faith with their grandchildren face-to-face more than once a week OR went on family vacations with their grandchildren once a year that those grandchildren had a significantly higher chance of remaining in the faith than those who did not and led to an increase in grandchildren talking with others about faith struggles in their life.

I learned that ‘when grandparents consistently modeled their faith, their grandchildren tend[ed] to share that faith.'”

Whether we have grandchildren of our own or not, we should not underestimate the power of simple, everyday actions like saying “Hey!” to children when we see them, reading together, talking about things that matter, and taking them along when we share God’s love with others.

If you are looking for good books and activities to nurture your children’s and grandchildren’s faith, here are a few resources:

Books to read:

The mission of Sparkhouse Family is to support faith development in families.  They have a growing catalog of Bible story books, other books, and videos you can enjoy with your children and grandchildren.  Our church’s Sunday School teachers are adapting some of them for use on Sunday mornings with our children’s class.  They also have a blog you can subscribe to for ideas, including Bible reading plans.  Each month of readings has a theme.  Click here to subscribe to the blog, and here to subscribe to monthly Bible reading plans.  Look in the sidebar for categories of posts: parenting, faith resources, family freebies, things we love, and news.  Sparkhouse Family books include titles like Search and Find in the Bible, which resembles the hidden picture pages in children’s magazines, Spark Devotions for Kids, and Frolic First Bible,which makes a nice baby gift.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers has published many wonderful titles for children, including one of my all-time favorites, Psalms for Young Children. Click here for my review of this book.

You can access these materials from the publishers’ web sites and from booksellers, and you may be able to find some in your local or church library.

Pockets Magazine is published by Upper Room Ministries of the United Methodist Church.  It is aimed at children ages 6-12.  Eleven issues each year deliver “full-color photos, stories, poems, games, mission-focused activities, daily scripture readings, non-fiction features, and contributions from children who read the magazine.”

Activities to share:

Flame Creative Children’s Ministry is a blog with lots of activity ideas using simple materials.  For example, here is a meal time grace place mat  with prayer reminders that you can make.

Music to listen to:

Glory to God: Hymns and Songs for Children and Families. See my review here.  You can order the CD here.  You can also download it from iTunes.  Search iTunes under “Nassau Presbyterian Church.”  I love the natural sound of acoustic instruments, and the voices of singers of all ages on this CD, and the fact that it includes music we sing during worship.

Shine Early Childhood Music CD. This CD comes from the Shine Curriculum of the Mennonite Church.  Click on the title to hear some samples, and to order.

CDs from Making Music Praying Twice.  I can’t recommend these highly enough.  I have thoroughly enjoyed using these with children.  Click here to read about how we have used these in our church to nurture young children.



An Army of Grandparents Unleashed


Do Broken People Matter? is a heartfelt and challenging post from Joshua Wilkey on his blog This Appalachian Life.  Joshua grew up in Appalachia, and knows about the suffering there from the inside.  He now teaches history at Brevard College. A big part of his life’s mission is to help people understand this beautiful, beloved, struggling American region, and especially its long struggle with poverty.  He wants to join with others in seeking solutions to Appalachia’s problems that truly respect the people who live there.

In this particular post Joshua tells some of his mother’s story, about the hard, dead-end jobs that broke her health and the mental illness and drug addictions that compounded the brokenness.  The few resources that were available to address her physical and mental health were totally inadequate.  She died on her fifty-fifth birthday.

Mental healthcare is a crying need in Appalachia and across America.  Joshua points out that if we are to have any hope of addressing the plague of drug addiction, the mental health resources must be there.  However, whether it’s poisoned water in Flint, Michigan (a problem that is ongoing) or drug overdoses in rural America, he writes, “It seems, at least on the national level, that no one is interested in treating crises in impoverished communities with the same urgency as crises in middle-class America.”  Often poor people are written off as trashy people who make trashy choices.  People with addictions are written off as low-level criminals.

Joshua’s writings and others compel me to look into my heart of hearts.  Do I really believe that all lives matter, or is the truth that I believe some lives matter less than others? Do I really believe that God loves and relentlessly seeks each one like a shepherd who won’t be satisfied until all are safely in the fold?  Do I believe that all lives are precious and worth the effort of caring?

I can’t help thinking of the mantra of the pigs who are the ruling elites in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  Is a similar sentiment operating in my heart?

Do people whose brokenness and mess cannot be hidden matter?  Jesus certainly thought so.

In an article entitled Choosing Church Marilyn McEntyre reflects on some reasons to consider becoming part of the life of a congregation.  But first she suggests several good reasons for avoiding some churches:

  • “Some churches are clubby and exclusionary.”
  • Some offer easy, oversimplified answers.
  • Some churches try (unsuccessfully) to imitate the language, music, and style of popular culture.  (Another way to put that is that they are trying to be something that they are not.  As many writers such as Rachel Held Evans have noted, young people can smell inauthenticity a mile a way.)
  • Some churches are predictable, lukewarm, and boring.
  • Some churches are partisan.  They support particular political candidates and tell people how to vote.

Now on to some good reasons for checking out church and giving church a chance:

  • “A healthy church will help you get over yourself.”  The church invites us into a story that is bigger than we are.
  • A healthy church calls us to confession, to acknowledge guilt and experience forgiveness.
  • A healthy church calls us to live according to the norms of the kingdom of God instead of the norms of the culture around us.
  • A healthy church gives us access to words and music that address the experience of life, connect us with the way of God and point us to the future.
  • A healthy church is a place to experience the presence of God.

There’s more in depth discussion of all of these in the article.  Check it out.



Prayerful hands3

Prayerful hands.

John and Mimi

My husband, John, and his grandmother, Blanche Todd

I often think about how faith is transmitted across generations.  Last night I heard a story about the power of shared faith across generations.  I was listening to a book entitled The Spiritual Child, by Lisa Miller.  It’s about the neuropsychology of spirituality, and how nurturing children’s innate capacity for spirituality helps them thrive.  The book is very repetitive and a bit sleep-inducing, and I am still listening for practical applications.  However, this story was striking.

The author describes what happened one Sunday morning aboard the New York City subway.  When she boarded, she saw that the passengers were crowded at one end of the car.  At the other end of the car was a disheveled man clutching a bag of fast food, brandishing a piece of chicken at the other passengers and yelling, “Hey!  You want to sit with me?  You want some of this lunch?”  The author took an empty seat across the aisle from the man.  At every subway stop the man issued the same invitation as people boarded.

At one stop an elegant older woman boarded with a young girl, about eight years old.  They appeared to be a grandmother and granddaughter.  They were beautifully dressed for a church service.  When the man saw them, he issued his invitation: “Hey!  You want to sit with me?”  The grandmother and granddaughter looked at each other, nodded, and sat down right next to the man, looking into his face.  “Thank you,” they said in unison to him.  The man and all the passengers were shocked.  “Do you want some?” he bellowed as he offered his chicken.  They replied, “No, thank you,” and again looked at each other.  He asked again, in a calmer voice, and they patiently replied with kind voices, “No, thank you.”  This was repeated a few times, and each time, the man grew calmer and calmer, until he was quiet. The grandmother and granddaughter looked at each other with understanding and agreement.

It was clear to the author that the grandmother and granddaughter had a shared spirituality.  The look that passed between them, which the author calls “the nod” was a sign of something deeply shared.  It was a sign of spiritual direction and values taught and received in a loving relationship between an elder and someone younger. The author felt like she was witnessing the passing of a sacred torch.

My hunch is that this granddaughter had accompanied her grandmother and  observed her kind manner and respect for others many times before.  And soon this way became a part of who the granddaughter was, too.  The author went on to point that out that the strength of this kind of connection across generations makes a big difference as children learn to live with the ups and downs of life.  Among its blessings are a sense of security and resiliency.

I give thanks to God for my grandmother and all the elders in my life who gave this gift to me.  I’m still looking for ways to pass that sacred torch on.

Morton Christmas 2

Singing Christmas songs together.

It used to be that everyone, or almost everyone, sang regularly, in church and at community gatherings.  Group singing has become an endangered species even in the church.  Encouraging everyone to sing, from our infant saints to our oldest saints, is one of my missions.

In his post Everyone Can Sing: How to Stop the Non-Singer Epidemic in Our Churches, Jonathan Aigner talks about remedying that situation.  One of Aigner’s most important points is to use music in worship that is suitable for group singing, i.e. doesn’t require a soloist’s interpretation.  It’s singable by ordinary people with ordinary voices.  He is critical of church music that he views as too performance-oriented.  He gets some pushback about that and other points in the comments.

At any rate, I’m going to keep working on this.  I really believe that everyone can make music, and we learn to do it in the same way we learn to talk, by listening and giving it a try, with lots of encouragement from someone who cares about us.

Here are some of my earlier posts on making music:

Music for Jesus’ Little Friends.

Music for Jesus’ Youngest Disciples.

The Blessings of a Hymn Book.

Neighbors from Flickr via Wylio

Saying hello at the curb.

When we think about sharing Jesus’ love and inviting people to follow him as disciples, a big part of it is simply being neighborly.  I once wrote a sermon called Front Porch Church reflecting on recovering the kinds of neighborly interactions that front porch living facilitated.  Often we work outside the neighborhoods where we live, and when we are home, we hang out on back decks and in fenced back yards.

Here is a post from the Slow Church blog entitled “Three Shifts Towards Neighborliness.”   I recommend the whole post, but here is a quote that I really resonate with:

“We need to give ourselves permission to waste time with our neighbours. When we choose to be present—around dinner tables, on porches, and in local parks—we create space for life-giving relationships to be deepened, for collaborative opportunities to arise, for creativity to be co-inspired, and for the cultural idol of productivity to be subverted.”

For more thoughts on neighborhoods and neighborliness, see my post “You shall love your neighborhood.”

Photo Credit: “Neighbors”, © 2012 Tony Alter, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Laura and her Grandma at worship.

Going to Sunday School and worship every Sunday was our family’s pattern since before I can remember.  If we were away from home, we found somewhere to worship.  If we had family members visiting us on Sundays, our family members went to church with us.  The weekly rhythm is so ingrained for me it is hard to grasp what it would be like not to be in that rhythm.  Even when I was a child, there were people in the congregation who were not in that rhythm, and I wondered why even then.  It caused me pain even then.

The drop in regular worship attendance over the last several decades, and particularly in the last two decades, has been well-documented and much discussed.  In general, people’s understanding of what is regular has changed, and many consider once or twice a month to be regular.  For me as a preacher, it means that each sermon must stand alone, even though I really feel that my sermons build on each other.  It is a challenge for those who are at worship every Sunday not to interpret others’ sporadic attendance as rejection.

Carey Nieuwhof has written about connecting with people who are not in the every Sunday pattern that I am in.  Here are some thoughts from his post 5 Ways to Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders.  Embrace is the operative word.  He notes that when he encounters busy people who haven’t been to worship in a while, they often express deep love for the church and that they are looking forward to getting back.  I experience that, too.  His number one recommendation is to develop some empathy.  He writes, “[I]f you stand there with a scowl on your face every Sunday angry about empty seats, why would anyone want to sit in one? People can smell judgment a mile away.  So, church leaders, stop judging.”

People often have struggles that we know nothing of.  I remember the challenge of getting just one child ready for church, and how much harder it would have been if I hadn’t had a supportive spouse to help me.  If getting everyone up and where they need to be at work and school is a difficult challenge during the week, I can see why it would be so tempting to take things easier on Sunday morning, to take some much-craved slow time.  Moreover, some people have to work on Sundays, while others have challenging personal struggles that make it difficult for them either physically or emotionally to get out and be a part of the assembly.

Nieuwhof also calls us to remember that our mission is not to fill seats on Sundays but to lead people into a relationship with Jesus.  We are making disciples of Jesus.  We do that in many ways all week long as we support them on their faith journey.  He points out, “[I]f you really help people move into an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, they might show up more regularly in your church on Sunday.  Ironic, isn’t it?”  Church is not just what we do on Sundays; it’s who we are all the time.

Thirdly, he reminds us to use the technologies at hand every day to connect with people.  I wholeheartedly agree.  For example, I have found that online social media is critical for connecting with younger people.  Social media helps me know when the children that are under my wings are sick, and when they make the honor roll.  I can quickly share encouragement and keep in touch.  This is the best way to share prayer concerns with younger adults.  Face to face conversations are still the gold standard for pastoral care, but I have found that Facebook messenger is a helpful tool for brief conversations and prayer, especially late in the evening when children are asleep.

Read Nieuwhof’s post for more, and see the links on that page to his other posts on this topic.

See also this post by one of his colleagues, a young mother, on what you miss when you skip church on Sunday.