Carrying The Fire

And other reflections on growing up in the traditional church

Start children off on the way they should go, 
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6
I grew up attending Sunday services at a small, rural United Methodist Church in eastern Rockingham county – a solid 30-35 minute drive one way each Sunday (and Wednesday, and any other day there were gatherings) from where we lived.  It was the church my mom also grew up in, and where she has served as the choir director and organist for 60 years, since she was 16. (Yes, I typed all that correctly!)

Although we would occasionally have a children’s Sunday (when the kids would be dismissed from service after the brief children’s message the pastor or one of our lay people would regularly give each week), most Sundays I sat with my grandmother and several of her friends – third pew on the left side facing the front, on the end nearest the aisle.  God have mercy on the innocent visitor who sat on that row unknowingly!  My parents would often remain in the choir loft during the service.

As I got older, I began serving as an acolyte, which according to our tradition, meant I was part of the procession of calling the worship service to order by walking down the center aisle with our pastor while carrying a long, lighted candlelighter that would be used to light the candles in the front of the sanctuary.  In addition to the distinct honor this was for me, I was probably even more excited that I got to be the one to ‘carry the fire,’ which was especially exciting for us pyromaniacs in Rockingham county!  

[Ironically, it wasn’t a careless, overly zealous, pyro-acolyte but rather an electrical spark that caused the church building to burn several years ago.  The good news is a new building is nearing completion soon where my home church will continue to meet and continue their legacy that began in 1775!]

I remember Sundays sitting in the seats of honor facing the congregation, flanking the tall chair perched in the center directly behind the pulpit that was reserved for the pastor. On a few occasions, I actually fell asleep during the sermon, which of course, was noticeable to everyone in the sanctuary.  I believe there may have even been one or two times the pastor had to wake me up at the end to extinguish the light and begin the recessional.  And if I’m not mistaken, it was such instances that led the church to make a change and have the acolytes sit on the front pews facing the pastor instead of the church…just in case an acolyte should test the boundaries of grace by dozing off again! (All this to say, if you have ever taken a snooze during one of my sermons on a Sunday, just know I have done the same plenty of times myself, albeit not as many in my adult years! Hence another reason why we serve coffee!) 

I try to imagine my kids attending Sunday services the way I did.  Although it could be argued that I turned out just fine not growing up in a church with a vibrant children’s ministry, I can’t imagine my kids missing out on what they get to experience each week in LifeKids, along with the number of adults who lovingly pour into them spiritually and relationally.  Our family spent two Sundays away this month, and both Sundays our kids commented on how much they missed church and LifeKids, and may have even threatened to report us had we kept them away another week!  I am not only proud of our children’s ministry as a pastor, but especially as a parent.  If this is one of the ministry teams you serve on, please hear me say “thank you” on behalf of so many other parents, adults and children in our church who may never have the opportunity to tell you as much as they intend.

While I can’t imagine things being any different for my kids, I also can’t imagine things being much different for me growing up.  I’m sure there were things I may have missed out on, but as I reflect back, I find myself all the more appreciative for the foundations that were laid in my life during my formative years – weekly recitations of the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer; the singing of the Doxology; the moments of awkward silence in corporate prayer, and the even more awkward breaking of the silence by a dear saint breaking that silence with an additional prayer request; and the benediction.

Several years ago when I began seminary, I was asked to revisit the question, “what do you believe?”  It dawned on me that the almost mindless recitation of the Apostle’s Creed each Sunday had somehow become a concise personal statement of faith.

Regardless of tradition and backgrounds, I am so thankful for the variety of ways Jesus uses His Church to both sow and water the seeds of the Gospel in our lives in order to lay a strong foundation that one day we are entrusted to build upon for the good of others and the advancement of His Kingdom.

Reflecting back on your own journey, in what ways do you find yourself similarly thankful?

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