What do answered prayers look like? I thought about this over the past week while my dear friend from seminary was staying with us - along with her three boys (5, 7, 10). Needless to say, being an only child, this was an adventure. I had many questions like:
Why are you fighting with each other - you should be happy to have a sibling?
Can one plate of food really end up in five different locations?
How many times a day should I run a dishwasher before it goes on strike?
Three boys, two shopping carts, two lists, one really big store...can Wegman’s handle it?
We have a great old Victorian house with five bedrooms...and I’m sure it has seen many, many children over its lifetime - HOW DID IT REMAIN STANDING OVER 100 YEARS if those bedrooms were ever filled with more than one child!?!?
But then I thought of other things such as how each of these children were somehow an answer to a prayer - gifted directly from God - and how my life is enriched because of someone else.
Sally and her boys lived above us in Chicago only a block from the seminary. Sometimes I wondered if I were living below a bowling alley or perhaps a secret government testing site developing weapons of mass destruction. I knew they were there - and when they left, the silence was not golden...it was lonely.
Could God’s answered prayers come in the forms of thuds and bumps - noisy fights and lonely silence? What are our responsibilities to answered prayers?
I thought about this on Sunday as well.
Ten people gathered around the tiny altar in the chapel - gathering closely as we laughed, prayed and rejoiced. Four of them were children - one more is on his/her way!
Every church prays for new members - I know we did.
Each church most likely prays that they would be young new members - I know we did.
And around the altar we saw God’s answer to a prayer. Some of these folks saw around them an answer to their prayers...they found a community to call theirs. They found a home of faith.
But answered prayers come with a few hidden gems.
First: Thuds and bumps. Noise and silence. In 2013 Jamie Bruesehoff wrote an editorial for The Huffington Post titled Dear Parents With Young Children in Church. (The link to the article can be found here.
“You are doing something really, really, important. I know it’s not easy, I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you come to church already tired. Parenting Is tiring. Really tiring.” If only one week with three boys showed me what exhaustion can feel like - then I know this mother is not making light of the tiring responsibility of parenting, and yet she values the importance of the presence of children and their families on a Sunday morning.
She points out the obvious - the child that asks an innocent question, not in an “inside voice” though. She acknowledges the discomfort parents must feel when their little one is bouncing all over - that it must feel like all eyes are on them. She tries (and I assume in vain) to tell the parents to just relax because all eyes are really not on them - though it feels as such.
“When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here we are reminded this worship thing we do isn’t about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome.”
Psalm 98 and Psalm 100 tell us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Jesus tells us to have the mind and heart of a child so that we can be as inquisitive of the kingdom of heaven as a child is inquisitive of the world around them! Without children - without you - the Body of Christ is incomplete. Why do I insist on Sunday School before church? For far too long we have been teaching our children that they should not be part of worship - they should be somewhere else. Rather, I believe that when we are worshiping as the Body of Christ, we need the complete Body of Christ present...in all its thumping noisy splendor.
On Monday night the Council voted to become a Reconciling in Christ Church - where all are welcome. While it is a statement to our LGBT community, it is a statement to all. To steal a quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda (and modify it a bit) all means all means all means all means all when it comes to our welcome.
Please do read the full article when you have a moment.
Second, remember I said a few hidden gems? Second, answered prayers come with some work - holy work from God. As we saw, nearly half of the new members of our congregation are children. We prayed and the prayers were answered...now the work begins.
The Council and Call Committee asked if I were up to the challenge to help welcome new families, and I was rather upfront and will be upfront again...are you? The responsibility falls to those ‘older’ members of St. Stephen's to be sure that Sunday School and youth education take off. It falls to the church to raise up new families and existing families (because we have families that have been with us for many years now). It falls to those of us that have welcomed and promised to uphold one another to help teach Sunday School, assist with snack time, sit in the nursery. Unlike many churches all we ask is a commitment from some folks once a month, who knows what the children might be able to teach you!
Answered prayers come with responsibility as well as blessings. To be the Body of Christ is to be fully involved with your community. Prayerfully ask yourself how you can be part of this answered prayer at St. Stephen’s.
It’s just a quick email or call with questions. Are you ready to say “here I am Lord?”
Yours in Christ,