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psspectacledowl1In early years we sat behind Rev. John Killip, a retired minister who was sometimes called to pray in the service, and who, I was certain, could easily pray aloud for many hours straight. Such a tall, wonderful white-haired gentleman he was, and he taught me to do a proper “Methodist hand-shake.” Later his seat was usually filled by Dr. Wilbur Sauer, an optometrist and minister’s son, who filled those roles and many other serving roles admirably.
My father, who regularly worked sixteen-hour days on the farm, would succumb to the warm, quiet, restful atmosphere of worship, and I would have to be alert to nudge him before “The Snore” began. I do not recall ever wanting to be anywhere else on those Sunday mornings.
After I turned fifty, and had those rare occasions of the privilege of sitting next to my father in worship, I was amazed to hear how much his singing had improved, how beautifully tonal it was, and how alert he was. He was always very smart, so I wasn’t surprised by how smart he had become after I left home, but I was moved by how his potential for embarrassing conduct in worship had diminished to zero.
God blessed me also with children who were not only independent thinkers, who sometimes resented the pressures of other people’s expectations, but who also respected their parents’ wishes that they take part in worship, even though they often had to sit by themselves, that is, with friends and older friends while their parents were involved in leading the services. They have shown me that they have some sense of the Ineffable One in their lives, the same One who was there for the Dunkards, the Methodists, the Reformed Swiss, the Lutherans, the Catholics, and the Jews who were our ancestors.
Parents learn most of their parenting skills from their parents, for better or worse. Teachers learn most of their teaching skills from their teachers. Where do preachers learn? I learned in an environment that now seems much different from the prevailing values, so much different that a sense of lost opportunities has descended like a fog. Why was I not able to contribute more to an environment of growth for worshipping families that was as fulfilling as my own? Some parents and children enjoy the opportunity to worship together, even though they are a minority in most communities. They will still find a center for their lives that will hold.
I realize I am not alone in this sense of missing too many opportunities to nurture young people in the life of faith and worship. There is no comfort in commiseration. There is only comfort in the hope and prospect of churches doing better, and the awareness that some are.