As we continue to navigate our way out of the pandemic, we recognize that so much has changed in every area of our lives. Ministry with children and families is no exception. Prior to COVID, we had a pretty solid core group of younger children. During the pandemic, it has been challenging to figure out how to support and nurture young families when vaccines were so delayed for young ones, when everything was online and Zoom fatigue was (and still is) real, and when the levels of stress and feelings of overwhelm continued to rise. We aren’t alone among churches who haven’t seen younger families coming back on Sunday mornings. Beyond the threat of viral spread, what else has changed?
For many regular church-goers across the nation, COVID was a catalyst for a spiritual shift. For some, that led away from church altogether, or away from particular churches. For others, it led to new weekend and Sunday routines that were rich and meaningful and didn’t include Sunday morning church. Some of them still attend online. Some don’t. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for us to know who joins us from home on Sunday mornings, and who participates through the recording later in the week.
As for programming, children’s ministry is often a catch-22. It’s difficult to build a program without children in it, but many families are looking for churches that have other children and programming in place. Congregations that have bounced back from COVID often have dedicated staff who are planning, leading, and implementing ministry programs for children and their families. So where does that leave, or lead, us?
In the short term, we’d like to be able to hire a nursery worker again, on a weekly basis, so we at least have someone here to support children who might be present. That’s been more of a staffing issue than anything else. It’s hard to find qualified, reliable help for a few hours a week. In terms of nurture, we are going to shift to a more focused class for younger disciples, once a month, after worship. We will begin on October 23 with a class during the nurture hour. On November 27, all nurture will shift to the late afternoon for our Advent Fair, which will be intergenerational. We’ll skip the month of December, with all of the special holiday activities and travel. The Advent/Christmas/Epiphany team is continuing to plan for the new year. If you have suggestions or would like to be part of the team to help plan and lead these special offerings, let Stephanie know. We hope this will also make it easier for families to plan and participate more regularly. Special guests are always welcome!
For the medium and long-term vision, I invite us to pray together. Our staffing model has expanded and shifted over the past number of years, to accommodate congregational needs and global realities. Gwen has a heart and gifts for working with children, and when we hired her, we were excited to explore those gifts more. Gwen can’t be here on Sunday mornings, but maybe there is a better time we could engage children and their families during the week. This could involve some rebalancing of Gwen’s current pastoral care responsibilities, but this, too, is pastoral care!
We continue to use the gifts we have to do what we can with whoever is here. At our last concert on the lawn in the spring, we had a bunch of neighborhood kids enjoying music and fun together. Seasonal teams can continue plan ways to engage Trinity families and the larger community. We’re moving to four seasonal teams, combining Lent and Easter. If we have one or two such activities planned per season, that provides at least one quarterly opportunity for families to connect. We can get creative in partnering with other congregations. For example, Massanutten Pres has invited any of our youth to participate in their youth group programming. There may be other ideas we haven’t yet considered.
Most of all, I want to emphasize that, regardless of how many children are in worship on any given Sunday, we do have a dynamic ministry with children and their families. How many children and families receive food through the backpack program each week? How many children have grown like weeds through clothing provided by the clothes closet? How many children have run through our yard and enjoyed the playground and facilities? How many undocumented children and families have been ministered to through Sanctuary house church? How can we begin to know the impact that the support of this church will have for Liliany and Marisol (Sulmy)? A young man in Kenya is completing his trade education. He was born to an imprisoned mother. His story, and the story of future generations, has changed, because of the faithful ministries of this congregation. I would choose these ways of ministering with children and their families any day.
Regardless of what we’re able to offer on Sunday mornings, and who shows up, the children who are part of this church are known, loved, accepted, and nurtured as the miracles that God created them to be. You all have loved and nurtured my boys for almost their entire lives. We’ve got another office baby now, who has more time with her mama because of our family-supportive policies and environment.
Trinity practices intergenerational ministry in ways that most other churches don’t. We welcome and genuinely incorporate all ages into the full ministry of the church. We haven’t had regularly scheduled youth group, but we’ve got college students who come home during holidays and sing, and play instruments for worship, and use their gifts in the tech room. They know they are loved and valued and respected, and that’s a foundation that has been strengthened within this community of faith.
Soon we will be on Court Square, handing out pronoun buttons and sharing God’s love at Shenandoah Pride. Do you know how many youth go to that event? Youth who aren’t welcomed or loved or accepted within their own homes, can come and see a reminder - or hear for the first time - that God loves them, just as they are. I’ll take that ministry to youth any day.
I celebrate the robust ministry that is impacting the lives of children, youth, and those who love and support them. I also would love to see more children, youth, and families here at Trinity. Not to add to our numbers, but because the ministry and witness of this congregation is important and meaningful. Because I know they will find love and support, and be challenged to grow and learn more about God’s love and the work that invites us to do. One of the clarifying moments in my discernment to come to Trinity was when I articulated, “This is exactly the kind of church that I want to help nurture my kids.” That’s still true.
So again, I invite us to pray for the work and ministry at Trinity, and for God to continue to use that to impact more people, of all ages. We pray for God to give us wisdom and discernment in using the gifts that we have. We pray blessings on the children who come to swing, or play tetherball, or run circles at the labyrinth. We pray for our neighbors who have much, and those who have little. We pray that God would continue to guide us in all of our work. And we trust God to do the rest.