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As a parent teaching your child to ride a bike is a rite of passage.

A few months ago I asked Laurel if she would like to try to ride her bike without training wheels. And she said yes not really aware of what would come next. The first time I ran with her as she rode her bike. I was catching every little imbalance so that she wouldn’t fall. And then the second time around I let go some. “Look up at where you are going, don’t look down…” And then she goes… for a moment and then she crashes. Then she doesn’t want to do it anymore.

She demands I put back on the training wheels.

I resist for a moment. Then I put them back on.

A few weeks later... without consulting Laurel… I took the training wheels off. I threw them in the trash. For a few months, her bike sat on the ground untouched. It’s like her bike said to her... remember if you ride me… you are probably going to fall down.

Then one day I asked Laurel again if she would like to ride her bike. And she obliged. This time a little more courage. She was learning to fall gracefully. Putting her foot out to catch her fall. She was learning to feel her body, balance, and ride. She was discovering the joy of riding her bike. Each time she needed my help to get on the bike and ride. But each time a little more on her own.

A few days later I look outside and I see Laurel riding in circles on her bike in the driveway. Wait? How did you do that? Then I saw her practicing by herself. Falling. Getting back up. Falling. Getting back up. Figuring out how to start and stop riding her bike on her own.

She was finding her agency.

As I watched Laurel start and stop this feeling of pride washed over me. As a parent, you question whether throwing away the training wheels and letting your child fall is good parenting. Then you see your child take agency. It made me so proud of her.

Later that night as I put Laurel to bed I told her how proud I was of her. Her response was, "what is pride?” I fumbled over words. I knew the feeling but couldn’t define the word. I have walked with her question… and pride at this moment is seeing my child take agency and risk to learn something new like riding a bike.

Laurel was teaching me hope.

Hope isn’t a transcendental, out-of-this-world word. It is tangible.

During the pandemic, someone said, “I hope Storied Church is around in a few years…” Hope was used like it was some kind of voodoo word… if we just close our eyes… then just maybe… we might be around in a few years.

Hope is many things. But one-way hope is tangible is through the word agency. Agency is defined by action or intervention that will bring about a particular result.

Hope asks the question what action am I willing to do that might further this vision and mission of a community? What is required of me?

And then doing that thing.

The question we hold is how much are we willing to put our ideas into action. Failure or success.

Life is a lot like riding a bike (and a box of chocolates). It can be discomforting when we realize that our training wheels are nowhere to be found. We become vulnerable to failure and success. And it can be scary. We can engage or becomes despondent.

There are moments that I wonder in the silence of my heart, "God are you sure I am called to do this work?" It is really hard. There are a lot of unknowns. I feel like sometimes God has thrown my training wheels away, and that I am learning to trust. I am learning to put one foot in front of the other. I am learning to hope.

What I am learning is that when we can be present in our vulnerability and continue to find our agency. There in that place, we will find, inexpressible, out-of-this-world joy. A God who is proud.

I can see it in the smile of my little girl.

  • Writer's pictureJason Gaskin

My kids Laurel (6) and Isaac (4) get so excited about church each week. “Daddy is tomorrow church?”

My response… nope… tomorrow is Tuesday.

They love going to church! They love their community. They love seeing their friends. They love sitting and talking with various adults in the community. The church is a special place for them.

This was not how I felt as a kid. I hoped that my parents would stay home and be lazy on Sundays. I never liked Sunday school and always found church to be boring. And I always insisted that I stay with my parents during the worship gathering. Kicking and prodding the whole service wondering if it would ever end

But not my kids. Going to church is lifegiving and exciting.

The worship gathering has a simple structure, play and hang out, go outside for a few minutes for a lesson, play, eat a snack, and then come back in for Holy Communion, sing a song, and then hang out some more.

And they love it!

So I am trying not to mess up there and other kids’ love for church!

Because it is hard as a church planter. You look around. And inevitably you compare yourself to others communities of faith.

There are churches that have a great staff, volunteers, Disney-themed facilities, and curriculums for the children. You check your kids in, go to the all adult, no kids allowed worship gathering, afterward check them out, and then go home. Because babies, toddlers, and young kids in a worship space are distracting.

For our very first every Sunday worship gathering we tried having everyone in the worship space. And it was so incredibly loud and immediately there were people who were worried about their ability to concentrate on the sermon. A lot of parents might feel that way as their toddler runs around the worship space, running to other people, goes through the worship space, and speaks freely can cause a lot of anxiety to the parents because they are thinking about what others may think. And it might be true… if I can’t actually hear the sermon… why go to church at all?

The very next Sunday we decided to take the kids outside for a portion of the gathering and then bring them back in for communion.

I firmly believe that children belong in worship spaces.

This past Sunday one of the parents asked if the kids could act out the scripture we were reading that Sunday. I was ecstatic about this unrehearsed way to see the scripture through the eyes of a child. So after communion, the kids acted out the scripture. It was so joyful, organic, real, and lifegiving. They weren’t just an addendum to our worship gathering they were a key part.

Then during communion one of our older kids handed out the communion grape juice cups, with passion and joy saying, “the blood of Christ given for you.”

I know parents of toddlers get flustered because we can have a better worship experience if our toddler goes to a nursery or at home rather than a worship space. Then I don’t have to deal with the what-if scenarios. What if they are loud? What if they run-up to the communion table or the pastor? What if they throw a football across the room? The reason we are uncomfortable with these “disruptions” is that we have come from traditions where children have been taken out of the worship space. I know the feeling for me as a parent and pastor who has had to pause my sermon to make sure that my kid has access to the restroom and find some assistance if needed… is it a small interruption? Maybe. But my kid knows at the end of the day that the worship space is an approachable space. The dad/pastor is approachable.

I am not saying that we won't one day have nursery or staff in that nursery. But we will carry the question on how we might best incorporate kids of all ages into the life of the church.

A few months ago I was doing the announcements at the beginning of worship albeit this morning was chaotic and nothing seemed to be going as planned. Traditionally I don’t get questions or hands raised during this point of the gathering. One of the kids came up to me in the middle of announcements asking if I knew where the juice boxes were. He needed to know something… and so he came to me in the middle of the announcements. He had a question… and I looked like the guy that might have the answer.

At the end of the day, my own kids are curious about Jesus. Where is Jesus? Is he in heaven? In my heart? They are asking beautiful, curious questions. Questions I’d imagine are being formed and fostered through the community they are around each week.

For us parents, family, and parishioners living out our baptismal vows are to provide space for our children to grow and flourish spiritually and most of all cultivate a sense that they are valuable. And the people they are to look for guidance are us, which means they need to see us pray together, read scripture, sing, and partake in holy communion.

In the midst of what seems like a distraction is really the formation of young disciples that are coming to understand Jesus cares much for them…and they know this because of the people that are around them week after week.

My hope… is that having kids more involved in the worship life of the church will lead to a deeper spirituality and commitment to the body of Christ. Not out of duty or guilt but because it has been fostered and formed in them how much it matters to their lives through the community.

So I am trying not to mess it up. Just trying to let things be and fall into place and celebrate the beautiful gift of having a church that is literally half kids.

  • Allison Pelyhes

Upon reading Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:1-14, (15-20) in preparation for today, I knew I wanted to pay close attention to Mary as this was her moment where she would birth the Messiah into the world. After months of holding this child, the prince of peace would come through her. A great relief, I’m sure, to the mother whose back was sore from riding on a donkey and body tired from carrying the baby for so long.

Imagine my frustration when she gets only one line in Luke’s telling of the story: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

And it was so. Just as quickly as God says, “let there be light”. And it was very good.

It is important, however, to recognize who the author of Luke does spend time focusing on: Shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night (Luke 2:8).

So, I began to ponder these shepherds. History of scripture tells us the role of the shepherd is misjudged by all outside of the Israelites. To walk with the dirty animals and sit close to the soil, to labor outside of the city with no attention paid at all to you, and work on your feet all day. All these roles were so foreign to the “good life” of the esteemed and high citizens of the city.

And yet, I believe, that the shepherds knew how precious their sheep were to the people of Israel. They treated them as holy sacrifices which brought God near to them and kept the people in God’s favor. Of course, we know now the concept of the “good shepherd”. As the prophet Micah foretold, out of the clans of Judah would be a ruler over Israel and He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord. Perhaps the shepherds hadn’t quite connected those dots, but they knew their job well. As Phillip Keller wrote, “Under one man sheep would struggle, starve and suffer endless hardship. In another’s care they would flourish and thrive contentedly.” This was the role of the shepherd: to draw the sheep near and guide them as a flock.

And so, they were outside the town of Bethlehem, burning the midnight oil. Devoted to their role, honorable in their service, and sturdy in their steps. Imagine how quickly their knees weakened when the angel arrived and drew them near. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:10-12).

The angel invites the shepherds into the great news of God. A Savior, the Messiah, the Lord is for them. And as if to draw the shepherds themselves into heaven with them, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" (Luke 2:13-14)

There was no dispute, the shepherds would go. Suddenly they found themselves becoming the flock, to draw near to where the angel led them. They went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger (Luke 2:16). Perhaps, the Shepherds knew this stable having just this morning taken the sheep from there. Perhaps, they knew the trough that they found the child laying in because they had filled it time and time again with food for the animals. Perhaps, this is my imagination, and this was their first time in this spot.

Regardless, they drew near to the newborn laying there, and “when they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). Suddenly, they become aware of Emmanuel, God with us. God nearer to them than ever before. They know how precious this child of Mary’s is without dispute. These shepherds embrace this moment of God being so close. Soaking in the baby from head to toe to create a permanent picture in their mind. Repeating the story to the young couple in the stable of the heavenly host exulting and praising God. Their work, a pattern of protecting their sheep, now changed to ushering in the last sheep. The sheep who would become the shepherd.

And so “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20). Rather than keeping it to themselves, they know and recognize the great joy a shepherd can offer to a flock when they share great hope that came in Christ that day. They draw others near to share in the hope, the love, the joy, and the faith. Knowing that though the story has only just begun this news means God is closer than ever and peace is among them.

My friends, for some of us this Christmas is more isolated than ever. In fact, I’m finishing up this blog listening to the rain on my roof from my bed alone in my apartment. I’m wondering if this spoils our candlelight service tonight. I’m wishing for snow and family and normalcy. And even still, with water falling from above and in my loneliness, God is drawing me near. May we as a flock recognize this great news and greet it with great joy. Even just for a moment, let us allow ourselves to draw near to God and then to one another in whatever form we can.

And, yes, Mary still shows up in this story reminding us of what posture Christmas Eve should bring us. When we hear this nativity story, may we be like the shepherd and may we be like Mary who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19). God is near. And God is drawing you closer this day through Christ. Amen.


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