This morning we celebrate the children in our Joyful Noise program and the spirit and the special music they add to our worship. We also recognized and presented Bibles to our Third Grade students who have been meeting with Midge Keane for the last 10 weeks. And, if that were not enough to awaken our gratitude, while it is not on the Christian liturgical calendar, it is also Mother’s Day with all the meaning and memories that carries with it. With all that and more, I thought it would be a good Sunday to think together about this.
A number of years ago I attended a lecture targeted at those of us involved in youth ministry. I expected the lecture to be about the latest and greatest tips and How to… ideas, but the focus of the lecture, at least the part I remember and which impacted me, centered around our definition and understanding of family. The hour or so I spent that day changed the way I thought about and approached my work with middle school and high school students. It also changed my understanding of the opportunity and responsibility we have as a community of faith when it comes to the children and youth and young adults who grow up in our midst. Here’s the gist of what I learned that day.
Prior to World War II, when one talked about family, the assumption was one was talking about not just moms and dads and their children, but also about grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins. Even cousins several times removed. That was the definition of family. The reason being, at that time, most families lived in geographic proximity to one another. Grandparents lived next door to their children. Uncles and aunts lived around the corner. Cousins gathered outside to play with one another. One of results of this was there were always multiple adults involved in the lives of children. This was important not just when children were young and needed a lot of care, but maybe even more important as children moved through adolescence when the developmental task is to shape an identity separate from one’s parents. Any of us who have raised teenagers know what it feels like to live in the tension created by both loving and letting go, and by setting and holding onto boundaries that are constantly being tested. When families lived together this is what would happen. Teenagers would get mad at mom or dad and storm out the door only to end up sitting around the kitchen table at Uncle Bob’s and Aunt Jane’s. Or, finding their way to a grandparent to complain that mom and dad just did not understand, but having another adult there not only to listen to them and to take them seriously, but also to reinforce the family values.
Much of that changed following World War II and the Korean War.
The interstate highway system was built.
The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Air travel became more affordable and accessible.
Because of all of that and more, families no longer lived around the corner from each other.
Grandparents lived half a continent away.
Cousins grew up rarely seeing each other.
Birthday cards replaced kitchen table conversations.
And, the definition of family changed.
Instead of parents and children and grandparents and cousins the definition of family became Mom and Dad and 2.4 children. In the years since I attended that lecture, our understanding of family has changed even more. Single parent families. Blended families. Gay parents. And, less children per family unit.
Do you see where this is leading?
That family network which worked so well for so long is no longer there for many of our children. Yet, the need for that network is as great as ever. When our children were teenagers I remember being told we need to we should have a conversation with our sons and ask them to name three adults, besides Shodie or me, who they could turn to if they needed help or when they needed someone with whom to talk when, for whatever reason, they did not feel they could talk with us. It served as a reminder to us that we needed to be intentional about the support system we helped put in place around our son’s lives.
Which brings me to today.
And, to Joyful Noise. And, to our Third Grade Bible class.
And, to so much more of who we are and what we do.
I love that children in our 3rd grade Bible Class learn about the Bible, but it is more important to me that they get to know Midge Keane. I love watching and listening to the Cherubs and the Choristers sing, but it is more important to me that they get to know Kathy Perry and John Lettieri. I love having the children come up front for the Time with the Children, but more than any lesson or prayer or conversation we have with them, it is more important to me that they have a minute to sit with and to talk with Kathy DiBiasi.
If I am right. And, I think I am.
In addition to all the love and care and concern and support we, as parents and grandparents, give our children and grandchildren, our children also need all the strong, caring, thoughtful, compassionate adults we can possibly stack around their lives. There cannot be too many.
And, this is where you come in.
All of you.
All of us.
We have a role to play and a responsibility to fulfill.
These are not only your children.
They are our children, as well.
We need to remember this…
We are family.