My wife and I have been very diligent over the years in ensuring a stable life in the Episcopal Church for our daughters. Since their births, they have been raised with weekly attendance at the Eucharist, involvement in Sunday School, taking part in special events, and going each year on our wonderful parish retreats. With rare exception, both were present at and, whether they wanted to admit it or not, learning from these experiences as they grew in their faith. There was nothing to upset the stability we had worked so carefully to ensure.
And then I entered seminary, and the stability was turned on its ear. It wasn’t so much the educational aspects of the M.Div. program that brought about a bit of chaos. The seminary campus is close to home, and as such the children did not have to switch school districts or go through the rigors of moving to a new neighborhood or even a new city. No, the biggest adjustment came with the start of my Field Education assignment (essentially, an internship) in a rural parish one hour from home.
Admittedly, at our home parish the girls were usually in the pews sighing or reading books or asking us how much time was left in the service. But we were there as a family.
Once I began traveling out to the country every week, my wife and I encountered more difficulty in even getting them motivated to go with her to church. Expecting them to make the journey with me each week was an even more unreasonable expectation. With this changing dynamic, we were at a loss in the next steps we should take in their formation.
On a weekend when my wife was traveling on business, the kids had no choice but to come with me for the morning service. Since they were going to be on their own, I had to leave it up to them to sit in their pew and – at the very least – behave like young ladies. But something truly remarkable happened. As I was serving at the altar with the rector, I looked out and saw that they weren’t just behaving; they were participating. My oldest daughter was helping her sister find her place in the prayers, they were singing the hymns (as much as possible), and they were actually watching everything going on around them. At the Eucharist, they knelt at the altar rail and watched intently as they received the bread and smiled broadly at me as I served the chalice.
In the months since that day, as I progressed through my Middler Year at seminary and continued my Field Ed. placement, my wife and children came a bit more regularly to join me in the country. There were some moments of grumbling – they are still kids, after all – but the maturity and curiosity I saw in them that day continued. They took the bold leap one Sunday of sitting in on the children’s Sunday School class. They are more willing to make the trip out to watch what I do during the Sunday services, and they ask more questions – about my role and the life of my Field Ed. parish.
In reflecting on these moments, I’ve come to realize that seminary has not been simply about my own formation and preparation for ordained ministry. Just as it was in the first steps of my discernment, when I talked to my family about what was ahead and getting their support for this new journey, this process has been about all of us. And I think that it’s beginning to take root in my daughters.
As they see my expanding role and the work I’m doing at the altar and with the congregation, they are becoming more serious about their own roles as valued members of the Church. They are asking questions about what they see. They ask about my internship at other times during the week, apart from Sundays. They are even showing excitement about the next steps – for them just as much as me – after graduation and ordination.
It may seem sometimes that our children don’t listen to us. But as I’ve learned in this journey, they are paying attention and soaking in experiences in ways that continue to surprise me. They are becoming great, excited, curious churchgoers. And they continue to make me one proud father.
How has your faith journey had an impact on your children?