The book "My Faith, My Life" is available at churchpublishing.org or your favorite bookseller. Also available on Kindle and as an audio book for the blind or dislexic atLearning Ally.
"This is the fourth group of young people I am preparing
for Confirmation and I've never seen a group this engaged in the class
material. " ~Kris Forsyth, Director
of Children & Youth Ministries at St Christopher's in Grand Blanc
[Note: This first appeared at buildfaith.org, a forum for Christian educators hosted by Church Publishing.]
A favorite and familiar story in Luke’s Gospel is “Jesus in the Temple”. Mary and Joseph, as faithful Jewish parents, brought their family to Jerusalem for the annual festival of the Passover. Many families from Nazareth traveled together, children chasing one another between and around the adults. Families looked out for one another. Like all the parents, Mary and Joseph traveled confidently, knowing that caring adults were looking out for Jesus, his brothers and sisters. So, it’s no surprise that when the family returned after the festival was over, Mary and Joseph didn’t notice Jesus was missing until it was time for the evening meal. We know the rest of this story: Mary and Joseph hurry back to Jerusalem and find Jesus in the Temple, sitting among the elders.
The passage ends with this phrase: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.” We are assured that an important part of parenting teens is letting them go to find their way to their Father’s house.
I have been wondering, however, about the preceding passage, the one we read at Christmas. It, too, closes with a similar proclamation, “The child became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.” Can this story also inform our parenting of younger children? Have we missed something by starting with the “Boy Jesus in the Temple” as our foundational story for teens? I believe we have, and have missed important pointers to raising children into their teenage years in community.
The story begins with Jesus’ being named eight days after he was born, as was the custom. Jesus is then presented in the temple for purification, again as was custom. What can we learn from Mary and Joseph? To raise children with faith, parents must practice the customs of our faith. In particular, worship.
Christian Smith’s research confirms this. [Souls in Transition by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell from Oxford University Press, 2009.] Whether parents practice their faith is the greatest predictor of whether children will have faith as adults. And, also according to Smith, among all the practices, worship is the most important. Sunday School will enrich your child’s understanding of our stories and faith tradition. Outreach is the natural response to Christ’s love. Both are part of a full life in Christ. But if a family must choose only one, choose to worship. Holy Eucharist is where the community meets Christ and God most deeply. It is where we experience God’s sacrificial love most intimately. In it we are fed to do God’s work in the world.
The story in Luke continues with Simeon, who comes into the Temple. The Holy Spirit reveals to him that Jesus is God’s salvation. Simeon responds by blessing Jesus and his parents, sharing with them what he has seen. The prophet Anna similarly blesses Jesus, praising God and speaking about the child to everyone. Ana and Simeon are not Jesus’ parents. They are part of the faith community. The lesson for us, then is to invite other adults in our communities to bless our children.
Blessings can be formal such as blessing backpacks during worship at the beginning of each school year or blessing youth at a milestone in their lives. Blessings can also be informal, such as meaningful relationships with adults who care and take a sincere interest in the well being of children in the community. A parishioner at my church talked about his alma mater with our son for two hours, and our son will gradauate from that college this coming year. As a teen, I sought the advice of trusted adults at church about topics I wasn’t prepared to discuss with my parents. An interested and caring adult lets a child know that she is a valued and a central member of the community.
Mentors can also bless children (as did Simeon and Ana), by letting their parents know the wonders of their children. Sometimes parents have difficulty seeing beyond the troubles of the moment. Parents welcome good news that their children are capable, kind and compassionate. Again, Christian Smith’s research affirms the practice of a community blessing its children with adult mentors. ”In almost all cases [in which a teen continues to attend church as an adult] necessary among these variables are strong, personal relationships with adults who bond with teenagers to faith communities” (Smith, 227). A church can establish adult mentors with a formal program or provide settings for children and adults to establish friendships naturally. Hosting intergenerational events is one avenue in which relationships can be built.
In the end, Mary and Joseph returned home, and “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.” A home where children worship and are blessed by their community is a home where the faith of our children will grow.
The following resources can help parents and their communities bless the children.