My husband David and I met when he was 17 and I was 14 at the Union of Black Episcopalians conference. I took one look at him and knew. Thankfully, so did he. He’s from Connecticut; I’m from Ohio. Twelve years later, we were married.
Our story of faith of love and faith is one I like to share, because our marriage is inextricably rooted in The Episcopal Church. We both came from families who were active in their respective churches. We both have fathers who are ordained in The Episcopal Church. We both have mothers who were lay leaders in our church communities. We were both acolytes. We both attended predominantly African-American Episcopal churches. So we both have first hand experience on what it’s like to be raised going to church every Sunday.
Recently, we were in Connecticut visiting David’s parents. Now that my father-in-law Walter is a Deacon, he and my mother-in-law Ida attend church where he’s currently serving. On Sunday, Ida decided she’d like to visit the church they attended for many years when David was young. We started to drive to the church and Dad said “by the way, the church isn’t where it used to be. There’s a new building near the retirement homes the church built.” Visibly surprised, David drove to the new building.
As we turned the corner, we saw a building that I would have mistaken for a recreation center. Except for the windows, it looked nothing like a church to me; certainly nothing like the old St. Monica’s. My girls looked around warily; I could only imagine what they were thinking. We walked into what looked like a parish hall, but that was the worship space. I located the altar. Ok, sigh of relief. The chairs were a mix of black and red; a few were worn but clearly still being used. We followed Ida to seats near the back of the church. I sat with a daughter on either side, each leaning into me for reassurance. I began to look around, and I noticed many eyes turning toward us. I began to recognize familiar faces. I saw my daughter’s godmother. Then, I heard one of the most uplifting sermons I’ve heard in months. I started to feel more at home.
Then, my husband did something extraordinary for him. St. Monica’s has guests stand and introduce themselves into a microphone and say where they’re from. A couple of people introduced themselves, and then the microphone headed toward me. I pointed to David. David took the mic and said: “I’m not really a guest, but I’m David McKenney. I’m here with my wife Miriam, my daughter Kaia, and my daughter Jaiya. I grew up in this church, so I guess you could say I’m at home.” The congregation burst into applause. I looked at my girls and I could see that they were both surprised and proud of their dad. Since we live so far away, they don’t get to see him surrounded by his childhood village. They were seeing a part of their dad they hadn’t seen before.
Here’s what I learned from this experience:
- Share your childhood church experiences with your kids. Share as much as you can. It’s important for your kids to see you as a former kid.
- Ask your parents, grandparents, family, and villagers to share stories about your childhood with your kids. It’s been fun to see the looks on my girls’ faces when they hear stories about their dad and aunt as acolytes. If your family is remote, take advantage of any time you have together. Use technology. But don’t let those stories go untold.
- Encourage your kids to talk to their elders about their own lives as children and adults – the time before your children were born. Often when our parents and other villagers age, our children don’t know them for the dynamic individuals they were. Show them pictures. Talk, share, laugh, cry. Then share some more.
- Talk about your childhood faith traditions with your kids. Tell them about worship services you loved. Tell them about things that you didn’t enjoy. Tell them about the people who weren’t in your family, but loved you like you were. That’s the magic of a faith community.
- If you didn’t have a faith community growing up, share stories of your village. Did you have a group of people who supported you and your family in your upbringing? What was that like? How is it similar or different than your village now?
I was reminded on Sunday that people make a church a home. Physical structures cannot compare to God’s spirit shining through God’s children. I’m restored in my own beliefs about church community. God knows we often transcend ourselves when we’re together, and God wants us to be our best selves so we can serve God and each other. Passing your childhood faith stories on to your kids will bring you closer to them, and to God.
What’s your favorite childhood faith story? Have your children heard it?