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    The DtK Book Club: The Habits of the Church

    January 29, 2014 by Brandy Vencel
    {Click the image for more book club posts!}

    A year and a half ago, we switched to a new church. I won’t go into our reasons for doing so because they really aren’t pertinent to this discussion. What is pertinent is that our new church is oh so much more Reformed than our previous church. This is a difference in belief.

    But the differences do not end there. It is also a difference in practice. There is a simple, but real, liturgy. We stand during the singing. We sit for the reading of the Word and prayer. The preaching is always followed by communion.

    That last one is huge.

    When we sat down together to decide on our criteria for a new church, I tentatively added the Lord’s Supper {weekly} to our list. Being that we are Protestant and not Anglican, Orthodox, or Catholic, finding a church with weekly communion can be hard to come by. Neither my I, nor my husband, had ever belonged to a church that partook of the Supper more than once per month; one church we attended only served it four times per year!

    Imagine our delight when the church with which we fell in love ended up serving the Supper weekly.

    It’s an interesting thing, to take it so regularly after never having done so. The Supper is a grace to us, and I cannot tell you how much I need it–more often than once a month.

    I need grace all the time.

    And now I receive it all the time. Word and sacrament together, a blessing upon our lives.

    I was thinking about this reading assignment and struggling with it because I realized, after the fact, that I could have saved my second post from last week and used it to cover this reading, and wouldn’t that have been nice?

    Unlike Smith, I’m not willing to say what I already said.

    He he.

    Ahem.

    So.

    I thought instead I’d share a little something about a decision we made, a long time ago, regarding our children.

    Many of you know that our children stay in church with us, rather than attending Sunday School. Some of you remember how training my children to sit through church totally saved my day last summer.

    Our new church already keeps children with the congregation more than any church I’ve ever been at — they only leave for the sermon, instead of being separate for the entirety of the service. But when we made the decision and built the practice into our family culture, this wasn’t the case, because we were at a different church. Sunday School was a children’s world that existed in parallel to the congregation’s worship service.

    Sometimes our children did attend Sunday School. We’re not against it, please understand. But they did so when we were staying for two services, and all of us had a class to attend. We still attended worship service together. Sometimes, two services were not an option. Worship service was always the priority, and always all of us together.

    The reason we chose to do this is very simple. We believe that the way to enculturate children to the Church is to have them participate in the life of the Church when they are young. We had observed the results of church youth culture, where the student world was completely separate from the life of the “adult” Church up until the age of 18, and we didn’t appreciate the results. It was all good and well until graduation, when many of the youth didn’t seem to know what to do with Church.

    And so many of them left.

    I know there is a lot more to leaving than this part of the picture, but one thing remains true: if a student is raised inside the Church but outside the worship service, he is lacking basic Christian habits, and perhaps the most important is communion. I knew students in college who had never partaken of the Lord’s Supper until the age of 18 because it wasn’t served in youth group, and they had never worshiped with the Church as a whole.

    We want our children to have a deep experience with the Church before they leave home. We want them there, to witness baptisms, to sing with teens and adults and the elderly and the disabled, to give their dimes to the offering, and, when the time is right, to eat at the Table.

    I understand the use of Sunday School, and I do not condemn those who use it. I do not think that you must have a child in worship from his infancy to build these habits. That is what we chose to do, but I still remember a day when I was in our church’s cry room rocking a three-year-old and a one-year-old, while pushing an infant in a stroller back and forth with my foot, and I wondered why in the world we were doing this and I thought that perhaps the whole idea might kill me.

    So I understand when families skip that step!

    Ahem.

    But my point remains: it is in participating with the Church that we build the practices of the Church into the child. It isn’t enough to tell the child about communion, or to describe baptism, or to explain a hymn. No. They must sing and eat and drink and get wet. They must physically experience the Body. The easiest way to imagine yourself in the Church is to be in the Church, to experience its rhythms.

    It’s like everything else. In order to live the life well, we start by living the life, and move on from there.

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