One of my church kids from Montana just got married last month and I just found out that she’s pregnant. She was one of the few people (like 2-3) I trusted with Daniel after he got out of the NICU so I’m ecstatic for her and I know she’ll be a FABULOUS mama.
This news and other news I got via Facebook got me thinking about all of my church kids from the last 14 years. Jon and I have always made an effort to keep a good rapport with our church kids and in my case, some of them have talked to me about things that they were afraid to tell their parents. (Don’t worry — I’m aware that I am a mandatory reporter and my rule is that I’ll listen but I am not keeping any secrets that will harm them or someone else.) Given that all of this is on my mind, I thought I would share some things I found helpful as a pastor’s wife and some things that I continue to find helpful as an adult in the church.
To give my kiddos some privacy, names have been changed to those of Anglican saints and I’ll tend to combine several similar stories into one.
Learn their names. This one is a no brainer. I know that I hated it when people referred to me as “Pastor Jon’s wife” rather than my actual name because it made me feel like I wasn’t worth their time. And seriously, “Jen” is not to spell or pronounce. 🙂 Actually learning the names of your church kids shows them that they’re worth it. Bonus points are awarded if you remember that little Etheldreda prefers to go by “Dreda”.
Sit with them at coffee hour or at a potluck. I have seen occasions in churches where the adults all separate into groups and completely ignore the kids. The adults who have the best rapport with the kids are the ones who go and sit with them and talk to them. You are completely welcome to “table-surf” and go hang with the adults as well but consider spending 5 minutes talking to the kids and listening to what they are talking about. If a kid is sitting alone reading a book, go sit with them and ask them about what they are reading. You might learn something. I know that Hildegard, one of my kiddos in northern California, educated me on the Divergent series and The Fault in Our Stars.
If they do something amazing, congratulate them. I promise that it will not give them a big head if you congratulate little Edith Cavell Jones on scoring that winning goal in the field hockey match last Thursday. She will think it was cool that you noticed.
Involve them in something you are doing. When I would have to do some baking for work or for a potluck in Montana, I used to invite some of the kids over individually (usually with a parent) to come and help. Most of them were involved in 4-H or Girl Scouts so it usually satisfied some kind of badge or program requirement and it was just a fun time to get to know them.
Another fun one was when kids would come and hang out with me at community events where I had crocheting with me. They’d sit next to me and we would crochet a row together with my hand guiding their hands. One of my prized possessions is a picture that one of them drew of me crocheting at one of these events.
If you have something judgmental to say, bite your tongue. To quote the book of Ecclesiastes:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.
I have seen just about everything on the planet as a pastor’s wife and then as an adult in the parish. I have seen more teen pregnancies and pregnancies out of wedlock than I can count on fingers and toes. I have seen people develop drinking problems. In the last week or so, I learned that one of my kids who used to be Josephine Butler Yeats is now Joseph Butler Yeats. Whether or not I agree with the idea of people being transgendered, it is not for me to comment on to anyone in public. If you think that the kiddos are not paying attention to your words and actions on the subject, you are sorely mistaken. I have watched kids shut down completely around certain adults who desire to be Titus 2 women but who come off as shrill, judgmental, gossipy, and critical.
Probably the best example of this was when Ninian and Hilda Beckett’s daughter got pregnant by her boyfriend at the age of 21. I had someone say to me in a very catty fashion that they were scandalized and had no idea what to say to Ninian and Hilda. The response I would have loved to say was “How about ‘congratulations on your grandchild’?” (Unfortunately, I was sitting in their parlor on a pastoral visit and it seemed wrong to break out the snark while enjoying their hospitality.) When the baby was baptized at one of the churches in the parish, there were some people who were up in arms over the fact that Jon allowed this. (Another Lutheran pastor came and did the baptism.) They said these things in the presence of some of the church kids and guess who the kids went silent around after that?
You are more than welcome to disagree with someone’s decision but seriously, watch what you say.
Teach them how to be adults in the church. In Jon’s first two parishes, we had kids doing everything from serving as organists to ushering to lectoring to leading the nursing home services. It was great because they knew from an early age that they belonged in church and the church was interested in letting them share their gifts. I wouldn’t advocate for a 16 year old to serve on the finance committee but church councils could benefit from a youth member as could call committees. I have seen some of the youth ask better questions than the adults. 🙂
If you share a building with another congregation and they worship in a language other than English, try learning a few words of that language. My church in Washington has a Spanish language service and currently, they’re hanging out with us on Sundays. They’re the service that has most of the kids and it has been really wonderful to watch the adults who attend my service interacting with the kids. My Spanish is incredibly bad (I was passably good at Spanglish until I spent nine years in the Midwest and didn’t use it) and occasionally French comes out instead; but they seem to be pretty happy that I’m trying. At least, none of them are face-palming at my horrible Spanish in my presence. 🙂
Be authentic in your faith. “Authentic” seems to be an evangelical buzz word these days but I think that its meaning is well understood. Being authentic in your faith means being honest about teachings with which you struggle, that you don’t know everything, and that you are persevering through because you believe in your heart that God is present in all these things. It is completely OK to say something like “this is a hard teaching for me because [insert concise and tactful explanation]” or to respond to questions they ask with “I don’t know the answer but I am willing to find it for you.” I have never had a kid in Confirmation or youth group mock me for not knowing an answer and some of them were more willing to talk to me about what they believed because I was honest with them about my faith.
For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.