Published 12:31 pm Saturday, October 7, 2017
by Nathan Dcker
“So many broken children living in grown bodies mimicking adult lives…”
– Emily Huff
I’m sure they didn’t mean it. They just couldn’t help themselves. Some folks have forgotten what it is like to be a child. However, Pastor Harris saw what happened and left his appointed place, shaking hands in the back, to go and have words with the child. His name was John and he was 10 years old. He had grown up in a broken family that lacked cultured expectations or even a modicum of etiquette. So when John was invited by his former teacher at school to come and attend church — he showed up in a muscle shirt, shorts and flip flops.
But that was only the beginning. Most guests show up and sit in the back of the church, on the sides or hidden in the balcony. Not John. Nope. He walked in late and proceeded to the pew where his former teacher sat, three rows from the front, right in front of Sandra, Mildred and Annabelle. And that’s when it began. ’m sure they didn’t mean it. They just couldn’t help themselves. Some folks have forgotten what it is like to be a child. However, Pastor Harris saw what happened and left his appointed place, shaking hands in the back, to go and have words with the child. His name was John and he was 10 years old. He had grown up in a broken family that lacked cultured expectations or even a modicum of etiquette. So when John was invited by his former teacher at school to come and attend church — he showed up in a muscle shirt, shorts and flip flops.
The three ladies paid more attention to John than they ever had to any sermon. While the choir sang a beautiful rendition of “Rescue the Perishing,” Sandra, Mildred, and Annabelle began whispering to one another. First, they commented on his clothing. Then they glared as he brought Hot Wheels cars out of his pockets and began playing including “vroom, vroom” noises while the Rev. Harris preached on Christ’s offer of salvation for all. Finally they gasped as he stood up to sing the invitation hymn because as he stood up his body odor rose with him into their nostrils.
John heard every word they said. Especially the words that began, “Well, I’ve never…” and “Can you believe…” topped off with “Bless his heart…” The Rev. Harris encouraged everyone in the benediction to share the peace of Christ in handshakes and hugs. As John turned around to face Sandra, Mildred and Annabelle — he saw the horror in their eyes. When he reached out his hand, not a single white gloved hand was offered back. The three ladies turned and practically ran out of the pew.
Ten-year-old John began walking for one of the exit doors (not the front door) with tears in his eyes. That’s when the pastor left folks who were standing in line to shake his hand so he could comfort a hurting child who had just been shown that God didn’t love him.
The most important ministry a church can offer to a child is a safe, warm and loving environment. Children today are not the same as children of the past. Our memories about how we behaved when we were children have been ‘reworked’ in our favor. We were never fidgety or noisy. We never brought toys with which to play. And we never embarrassed our parents. Right?
Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me…” He didn’t add, “… and let them act like tiny adults.” We, the church, have a commandment from Jesus to welcome the children. Welcoming children means smiling at distractions during sermons, helping find lost treasures left in pews and offering an experience in church that reaches all ages, not just those with driver’s licenses. Welcoming children means we are willing to get down on hands and knees to prayerfully play and remember that we are all children of God.
For us at High Street UMC, we feel called by God to welcome children. This is a vision that means starting new ministries (like a daycare) and realigning old ministries (like our worship service) to invite children to experience Christ’s love. It means investing in things adults won’t use (like a playground) and allowing mistakes to be a part of growing up (like hand prints on the wall). We’re called to welcome children. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.
NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.