23 May, 2012

A Childs' Blessing

I have not attended church service in over three weeks so far.  No, it's not that I'm avoiding church.  I'm not.  I simply have been scheduled to work on Sundays.  It's times like this where I think an evening service would prove useful.  In fact, it'd be nice if a New Thought church would step up and offer what I call a "cafe format" evening service on a Saturday or a Sunday evening.

Since I started exploring the Unity Churches throughout the Bay Area, I've noticed that a common worship format practiced at several locations was that prior to concluding the service with the congregations' rendition of "Let There Be Peace on Earth," the congregation would present the children's participation in Sunday School.  (Then the children would receive a church blessing)

When I attended Mission Bay Community Church, Pastor Bruce held a cafe/contemplative format during service.  Contemplative as in there were moments we were able to spend time alone and reflect, and the cafe format to get the congregants to inter-mingle.  Though they were not a New Thought church, there were a lot of elements of progressiveness and inclusion.  What I enjoyed during their service was that there was a 4-6 minute period of complete silence.  Bruce would declare that parents need not to maintain the silence of their young children during that time.  If a child were to make any sort of noise during that moment of silence, it was meant to be.  One service I arrived totally combative, disconnected and defensive.  To be honest, I don't remember a lot about that service because I was combative, disconnected and defensive.  What I do remembered was during that moment of silence, someone's baby blurted out a very present and joyous "aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeee."  And the reason why I specifically remembered that moment was because I felt those three walls of combative, disconnection, and defense crumble with tears welling up in my eyes.

Going back to the Unity services, one of the San Francisco location and the San Leandro location would have the childrens' Sunday school presentation and childrens' blessing before concluding service.  (San Leandro is the only Unity that I've visited who doesn't close with "Let There Be Peace on Earth."  They conclude with Ricki Byar's "Blessed Always.")  With apologies to Rev Diana and Rev Maggie, I have to admit that there are times where one of the child's comment during this segment has more of an impact on me than what was shared during the message.  The children leader would ask them what they learned and it can be a simple word, or a belly laugh, or two kids wrestling around.  It'll hit me on the head like a ton of bricks, and I'll leave church service in high gratitude because I know without a doubt in my heart and mind, God spoke directly to me.

The reason why I bring all of this up was because of the most recent service I attended at the Castro Valley Unity.  A young mother brought her 1 1/2 year old daughter with her, and because the congregation is small in attendance (8-14 attendees on average)  there was no childrens' church/Sunday School.  Therefore little "Jazzy" joined us.  Throughout the service, Jazzy was...well she was simply being Jazzy.  That's what 1 1/2 year olds do: They just are.  Unfortunately after the end of service, the young mother was confronted by some of the attendees who demanded that her "child does NOT belong here at church," and that she was not welcomed to church as long as her child accompanies her.  Ironically my first time visiting that specific Unity was in November of 2011, and one of the prayer request that day from the pianist was that we would like to see "new young children grace our service"  which confirmed my initial impression of that location as I had visited San Francisco and San Leandro prior.  In May of 2012, that prayer was answered but it was clear that a couple of members weren't too thrilled.   I pulled the mother aside and told her that as an actor, I pay hundreds of dollars just to re-learn how to be like Jazzy, and that their presence is a reminder of what's important.

People tend to measure or determine what a church is like based on attendance, worship format, the presentational skills of the pastor, or even what kind of food is served.  I think a measure of a church can be simply determined on how the children are.  Not necessarily their behavior, but just their overall beingness.  If anything I've learned this past year's spiritual journey, it's the lesson that I should never under-estimate the power of children, for not only do they have that same access to divinity like the rest of us, but they have LESS obstacles in their way.

 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.   -Luke 18:16 NASB

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