COLUMN: The sound of hope

Published 8:46 am Sunday, February 25, 2024

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By Jason Stump
Guest Columnist

Mardi Gras Sunday is one of our highlights of the year at the church I pastor. While it’s always good to worship God together, there’s just a different feel about this one. The music of the Olde James River Jazz Band, the beads, hats, and extra food on the hospitality table. It’s truly something to be caught up in. A bit of “transfiguration” itself. There’s just a different way The Spirit shows up that day. 

With all the joy, brightness and uplifting of the singing, the photo booth and the decorations, there was an unexpected moment this year that lingers with me more than anything else. The kind of thing that doesn’t come from planned liturgy or rehearsals but shows up when God’s spirit is present. It’s a gift to behold.

We had a lot of children that day for our worship, more than usual. We had to add a person to our nursery care team to keep us within our ratios of adults to children. Our church provides nursery care, but we welcome families to participate in worship as they are most comfortable. There’s no encouragement to use the nursery care. It’s just available for those who choose it. 

During the worship, I heard the babble of a baby a few times. It’s such a wonderful sound to me, especially in church. It was a little boy brought to church for the first time by his mother, who grew up in our church—a handsome fella for sure.

Just at the time in my sermon, I was encouraging folks to “listen to the children,” you could hear him babble just enough to be noticed. Then he did it again as if to be sure I heard him. Thankfully, I did not miss hearing his voice, or God’s, at that moment. 

I paused and asked the congregation to just take that sound in for a moment. Our little friend got a little more vocal, and some of us chuckled at that. 

His mom, as moms do, was afraid he was a distraction. She got up to take him to the back of the sanctuary. It’s then I did a thing a pastor shouldn’t really do. I called attention to her. I couldn’t help it, really. I wasn’t trying to do that. I just made a desperate plea, “Oh no, please don’t leave!” She indicated she didn’t want him to be a distraction. My heart connected to this moment and her feelings of worry, from experience and compassion, but also from my own desires and needs as a pastor and grown man. Then, I said, “I need that baby in here, and that sounds more than you know. That baby gives me hope.”

I instantly felt the entire congregation agreed with me. There are moments like that, you just know.

I learned early in seminary that one of the most important things churches do is to create hope. We live in a world that needs hope, like it needs each breath. At their best, churches do that for those of their faith, other faiths, lost faith, and no faith at all. Somehow, in this moment, God’s presence interrupted through all that may have been planned for the day, in that baby’s sacred breath and voice. 

All that we had created with the best intentions paled compared to the hope that the babbling of a baby created. 

Now, it’s up to us, as a church, a community, and an evolved society, to nurture that baby and that hope. 

The next time you hear a baby babbling, even crying, give yourself a moment to process that gift. To just be in that moment. Then, invite God and your spirit to a conversation. What might their dreams become? What might they need to be successful and do good in this world? What does God want us to do about that? 

Life begins for all of us as a babbling baby. Maybe not understood, even helpless, but certainly precious. Then we grow and, hopefully, are nurtured well along the way. Hope does the same.

Mark 10:16: “And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”

The Rev. Jason Stump is pastor of Oakland Christian United Church of Christ in Suffolk. He can be reached at