I love the story I used this past Sunday, about a baptism-related custom practiced in some congregations in the West African nation of Sierra Leone. The night before an infant is baptized, the oldest woman in their family holds them in her arms, and walks with them around their community. She points out the homes of those who will help to nurture and care for the child. She shows them the school where they will learn to read and write. She also points out the places where danger lies. The tour ends up at the church in which the child will be baptized, and where they will learn about the life of faith.
For good and for bad, we live our lives in community. Our families thrive, or not, in a context. We can do a lot to improve that context. (And I don’t mean building a bigger house, or buying our way into the “best” neighbourhood.) We can get involved in our children’s school. We can volunteer for class trips. We can help our kids choose sporting and other activities that help them learn, and grow, and have fun. We can support not only our kids, but the volunteers who make most of these things happen. We can see the opportunity, in those long hours hanging out at the ball diamond, soccer pitch, or community centre, library, pool, arena, to make connections with other families.
Last weekend we got the email from our son’s coaches, about the beginning of baseball season. The good news was that our son has been put on a team with many team-mates from previous years, and with two coaches we know well. The challenging news was that the team practices are scheduled for 9 o’clock Sunday mornings. This presents our family with a number of hard questions.
How do two pastors get their child to a sports event that competes with Sunday worship? Are we supposed to show support or approval for this challenge to the Sabbath? We have both seen congregations “lose” families to the powerful draw of organized sports, that treat Sunday as an ideal day to schedule practices and tournaments.
Should we protest the Sunday practices, and draw our line in the sand? (What about Fridays for Muslim families, and Saturdays for Jewish families?)
On the other hand, should our child miss out on something he loves, and at which he excels, because he lives with the mixed blessing of being born into a clergy family?
On the other, other hand, what’s the big deal about Sunday morning? We nurture faith, and pray with our kids, and take time for the spirit every day. In our family, Sunday is a work day for both parents, and a day when the kids get saddled with responsibilities that are a lot like work. Their Sunday mornings are just one aspect of their spiritual lives.
We wondered about partnering with other faith communities to develop a program, or resources for families who face similar challenges. Maybe we could use a website to offer a place where a family could find a short video, a reading or story, a question to provoke discussion, and a closing prayer or ritual. Would such an effort backfire on us- giving people an alternative to church attendance? Would people wonder why we only thought of this once our own family faced the problem? Where would we find the time and energy for one more thing? (This kind of project would need to be done well, or not at all!)
Most of those questions remain unresolved. We emailed our son’s coaches. We explained that we see the importance of the practices for team-building and skill development. We also mentioned that our kids’ involvement with church and Sunday School matters to us, and not just because we are ministers. We asked if it would be acceptable that our son attend every second practice.
The coaches have been very encouraging, and supportive. Because they know us, they had anticipated the scheduling issue. They have offered to help get our son to practices and home afterwards. The coaches are fine with our son attending practice when he is able. Other parents have also extended offers of assistance.
Our “solution” is not perfect, but it seems to allow us space to uphold the value of spiritual nurture, as part of the range of activities we seek out for our children. We cannot do any of this by ourselves. We live, and we are raising our children, as part of a community that includes loving, caring people, who do not necessarily share our level of commitment to a church.