One of the most joyous aspects of our close-knit church community is how my granddaughters have come to understand that this is their home-away-from-home, and their presence is not only tolerated, but welcomed. Being just barely four years old and still rather squirrelly in many ways, Olivia is not always the model child in church. But she is entertaining, and usually at least mildly civilized. Lily, being eight, has several integral roles in the service, including carrying the book of readings during the processional and waiting at the altar to receive the offering basket. On very special occasions, Olivia gets to carry a candle or an icon.
The usual pattern our service follows is a gathering hymn and processional, opening prayers, and then the children troop off across the parking lot to the “little house” (Saints Mary and Martha’s House of Hospitality and Learning) for Sunday School. They return to church after the sermon and the Prayers of the People, in time to share the Peace and then have Communion, closing prayers, announcements, and our recessional hymn.
This morning after the Prayers of the People, I went to the little house to alert the girls and their teacher that it was time to return to church. Some of the Kaweah Brass musicians had arrived (they were to play for our ice cream social after church), so I stayed behind to help get them situated. I slipped back into my seat by my granddaughters in time for Communion. The rest of the service proceeded as usual, including the First Sunday blessing of those having birthdays or anniversaries during June.
At the end of our ice cream social, a friend shared this story with me. When I stayed behind at the little house, my granddaughters and their Sunday School teacher went on into the synagogue, just in time to pass God’s peace. Olivia noticed two men standing together in the back row who were new to our service. She immediately walked up to them, held out her little hand, and offered them “Peace”. At that point, my friend stepped up and introduced the men to Olivia, and then she continued working her way through the congregation, greeting everyone in her path with a hand shake or a hug.
I am thankful today for the gift of hospitality that my granddaughters are learning from our church community. Olivia doesn’t have to be cajoled into being welcoming — it is second nature to her now. And her welcome extends to everyone who walks in the door…men, women, or especially children. It carries over outside the church setting, as well, and will continue to help her bless others throughout her life.
And a little child shall lead them.