I cried at church on Sunday. It wasn’t the first time, though I’m not a particularly teary person. But I wasn’t reaching for the Kleenex because a parishioner shared a heavy burden or because I was having to say goodbye to a congregation I love or because conflict had flared up on the busiest morning of the week. I cried because I was a grateful mama.
My two-year-old spends his Sunday mornings moving between the nursery and the adjoining one-room Sunday School for the older children. He’s really into vehicles right now, and his first order of business when he gets to church each week is to pull out the three school buses in the baby room. One of the buses is designed to light up and make sounds, though its batteries probably died long before my husband was appointed to pastor this congregation in June. On Sunday morning a fourth grade boy told his parents he needed to take batteries to church so that L could play with a fully-functional bus. I was still in the children’s area when this sweet soul walked in with a Ziploc bag full of different sizes of batteries and headed straight for the nursery to get that bus ready to roll.
It wasn’t just the gesture but also the forethought that made me a little weepy. And yet, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have seen this child go out of his way to welcome my preschooler. He’s not the only one reaching out, either. There’s a teenage girl who has taken it upon herself to look after L on Sunday mornings. Other kids engage L in games, sing with him, and read to him – without much (or any) prompting from the adults.
These children and youth have been deeply formed in their caring behaviors by the congregation as a whole. The adults check in with and help one another without reminders to do so. They can disagree and still love and minister alongside each other. They tell my son to stop running in the sanctuary with his sucker (thank you!) and follow that gentle instruction up with big hugs. Their prayer lives are deep and broad in scope.
This abundant care that is nurtured by the intimacy of a small congregation overflows into the community. The church works with the local elementary school to help families in need. It takes VBS to a nearby apartment complex. It actively invites neighbors to participate in on-campus fellowship experiences like trunk-or-treat and content events such as special speakers. It brings crocheted blankets to people who are hurting or homeless.
I have loved all of the faith communities I have been part of as a minister and spouse. But this place is definitely the place for us now. As a mama, I would not trade the congregation’s investment in my son’s spiritual and emotional development and the modeling of being responsible for and to other people – not for uber-modern facilities, not for a regular rotation of high-visibility events with bounce houses and snow cone trucks, not for age-divided or super-techie formation experiences.
So take heart, small churches. There’s no need to compare yourself to the big guys. Yes, they have much to offer. But so do you, and there’s no standard metric that can gauge the impact of heart.