Growing up in a small town, I attended the church where both sides of my family had worshiped for generations. The church was full of my relatives, both distant and close, and I worshiped alongside my cousins older and younger, great-uncles and -aunts, and many people who could tell me stories of my great-grandparents, though I had not known them well myself. The narrative of my family was held within the container of that community. They hugged me and greeted me warmly before worship and they scolded me when I was out of line; they reminded me who I was when I started to forget; and celebrated my accomplishments right along with me. When it was time for me to leave Indiana and set out on my own at age 17, they threw me a going-away party and assured me I always had a place with them.
Like many of us of my generation and older, I was not brought up going to Faith Formation classes during worship. Instead, we all worshiped together as one community. Sometimes, children would switch it up and sit with aunts and uncles rather than parents; and the youth often sat together and eventually formed their own pew. The toddlers were known for turning around in the seats and being more interested in the neighbors sitting behind them than in the Cheerios with which their parents attempted to entertain them. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to “Turn around!” when I was a small child in church! And then there were the many iterations I drew of a duck — My aunt had quite a duck drawing collection by the time that phase ended!
Over the years, that church became a second home to me: I grew to know the hymns and eventually came to read music and words and could sing along, not just from memory, but with some (slight) skill. I knew my Uncle Larry always song-led just a little off-key, and I came to know the cadences and the common prayers of the different ministers who led us through worship. Though at the time I could not articulate why, I also understood I had an affinity for one preacher over another (I now understand I appreciated the gentler nature of his preaching in contrast to the others). All of these experiences led me to feeling that I both knew and was known by the church. It was in this small fundamentalist church where I developed a love of church, despite not agreeing with the theology I was being taught. And even when I left that church as a teen, it was those experiences that kept me seeking a church home until I found Unitarian Universalism.
When I think of All Souls, I wonder: is our church a place where our children come and feel known – not just by their Faith Formation teacher or their Director of Children’s Programming, but by at least ten adults in our church? Can the adults in our church tell the children stories that reflect back to them their identities, or do they even have a sense of what those stories are?
Faith communities have so much to gain from worshiping together across generations. Babies will not always rest quietly in their mother’s arms; toddlers will continue to turn around in their seats to stare at those sitting behind them. But it is in worshiping together that our children come to know the adults in our congregation; it is in worshiping together that the young parents of our church know and trust they are held within the village of community (because goodness knows, we all need a village!). And when our young parents are exhausted and beside themselves when confronted with one more temper tantrum, they can find relief in the reassuring glance of an older parent who has been there before. Or even in the help of an adult who takes the toddler under their wing and distracts them with pleasantness! Our families can be supported in the exhaustion of parenting while also being reminded to enjoy the momentariness of it all. It is in community where people of all ages can experience knowing and being known, where they can both be held and experience the abundance of holding others in times of need. May we continue to build relationships across generations to care for one another through all of life’s stages.