My parents could not afford church:
I grew up in what must have been a “normal” 1950s home. We had enough, but not too much. Enough for us was a roof over our heads, one car in the driveway, one bathroom in the house, three children, one father and one mother, a ten cubic foot General Electric refrigerator, a radio, record player, one hand mixer, and three changes of clothes for everyone. Oh, I can’t forget Taffy. She was our four legged friend (dog) all the way through my grade school and high school years. The rest of what we had was either free or of such great intangible value that no amount of money could have bought it. My catalog of intangible blessings included my extended family, what seems to have been a simpler world, and growing up as the member of a parish family.
Looking back at my childhood experiences at church, I now realize that my parents could not afford church. They did their best by providing us a roof over our heads, clean clothes, and something to eat each day. This took all the time, talent, and energy my parents could muster. Despite this we enjoyed the benefits of all that our local parish church (Grace Memorial) had to offer. I thrilled at being able to serve as an acolyte. My Sunday School and confirmation classes are still being replayed in my memory. And the friends I made in the youth group helped me navigate my way through the high school years.
Mom and Dad could not come close to contributing enough to reimburse the parish for all that my brother, sister, and I received, nor could they dedicate the necessary time to plan, supervise, and lead the offerings the church made available to the youth of my day. The child rearing years are the most challenging years in anyone’s life. As a result, someone else paid for all of this extra stuff. Someone else volunteered their time. That “someone” role was filled by others of my parents peers and the older members of the congregation whose families were already grown and launched on their way.
Standing at this end of the time scale, I can now appreciate how the senior members of each congregation are uniquely equipped to support the church of the next generation. It seems that at various stages of our lives we step into new roles. If a family is ever going to have financial gifts to give, it is usually after the child rearing years have passed. Those are also the years when we have the opportunity to continue our “parenting” in a new way because we now have new time to invest. The saying goes that “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is absolutely true in the church. It takes every member of a congregation to raise a child of tomorrow’s church. This includes all of the parents, and empty nester’s.
This winter our parish family engaged in a process of collecting the dreams God has sent to us. Two of the dreams that surfaced as high priorities were to focus on the further growth and development of our Wednesday School program and the establishment of a ministry to or with the high school students in Sitka. When we contemplate these dreams as high priorities for all the people of St. Peter’s, we also need to look at the lives of our friends who are in the process of raising their families. The truth is that their lives are busier than most of us can begin to imagine. We also need to realize that most of their financial resources are already deeply committed to their parenting ministry. If we are to step up to the dream of growing our Wednesday School, and establishing a High School Ministry, how are we to do it? Maybe the solution lies in an old answer to the dilemma. “It takes a village to raise a child,” including the help of the empty nester’s.