On Easter Sunday we celebrated the sacrament of infant baptism. Baptism is a sign and seal of what Jesus Christ has already done in the life of the child, but it is also a commitment by parents and the community of the church to help nurture the child in her own journey of faith, to provide an “education” in the way of Jesus. As individuals, our place in community is significant.
As I prepared to administer baptism I found myself reflecting on my own experiences growing up in the church. How did the church nurture me in my faith? How have cultural changes since my childhood impacted the ways and means of nurturing others in the faith?
I am often surprised that my earliest memories are not of time spent in a Sunday school classroom, because when the church doors were open we were there. My earliest memories of learning about Jesus are centered on time spent interacting with other members in the congregation – worshiping, playing, eating, conversing, reading the Bible, singing hymns. My church family was key in my own journey of faith.
Biological family was also significant. Family devotional time when all seven of us kids, bathed and ready for bed, gathered in the living room to read the stories of the Bible, talk about them, to pray together and talk about our day in light of God’s presence in our lives.
At home and church, mealtimes were part of my Christian education. In both places, mealtimes were filled with stories that ignited my imagination about God’s presence in my life. Those mealtimes fed my hunger and passion for learning not just about God, but about God’s world.
Following church on Sundays it was not uncommon to have missionary friends join us around the table. When they were there we heard stories from and about men and women who followed God’s call to exotic, far away places and witnessed God at work all around the world. We children didn’t do much talking, but we’d listen in fascination to these men and women who lived sometimes dangerous but always (to us) interesting and exciting lives. In short, my parents and those elders who gathered with us around the tables passed on a way of life that was spiritual, moral and civil.
There were more formal times of Christian education. One of my strongest memories is of standing in the downstairs room of Calvary Presbyterian Church on Sunday evenings as “Momma Holloman” challenged us with Bible sword drills. There she also taught us the Catechisms and invited us to enter into the stories of the Bible.
Following Sunday evenings with Momma Holloman we joined the adults for a potluck dinner before gathering in the sanctuary for an hour of singing. There we learned through song. I still sing most of the great old hymns of the church from memory because of those Sunday evenings.
The church has changed in profound ways since my childhood. The opportunity to nurture others in the faith through relationships and sharing life together, loving as Jesus loves – that has not changed at all.