Category Archives: Intergenerational Church

Sermon, Sept. 19

Before I start, I want to say to the kids listening that in this sermon, I am mostly talking about you but not to you. I know that’s a little rude and I’m sorry. If you have any thoughts or ideas as you listen, I would love to hear them later! 

Alright. Let’s hear a tiny bit of our Gospel again: Jesus took a little child and put it among the disciples; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,”Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the One who sent me.”

Just 24 verses later – so close that it’s on the same pair of pages in my big study bible – we see Jesus hugging children again. This will be our Gospel in a couple of weeks but let’s hear it today. 

Mark 10, verses 13 to 16:  People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.

I think there are a couple of core ideas in these twin passages. First, it’s the responsibility of grown-up Christians to welcome young Christians. Jesus says that – AND shows it, in his anger at the people trying to create a no-child zone around him. 

Second, grown-up Christians should not assume that children are empty containers and our job is to fill them with faith. Children have things to teach grown-ups about the Kingdom of God. There are parts of all … this … that they understand better than we do. 

Note, too, that none of this is limited to parents or family. In both of these scenes, Jesus is speaking to his disciples – his inner circle, those who will become church leaders after his death. Not to the kids’ parents or grandparents. 

In the past few decades, people studying intergenerational communities and churches have gained some insight into **why** Jesus might have stressed these things. In the mid-20th century, American churches fell hard for the idea that what churches do with kids should look a lot like public school. Age-graded classrooms, lesson plans and workbooks, attendance charts and reward stickers. All based on the idea that Christianity is a body of information that can be taught, the same way you teach long division. 

As early as the 1960s, an Episcopal priest named John Westerhoff started writing about how misguided this was. He says, Faith is caught, not taught. If we want to raise children who know and love our way of faith, we need to focus on being church together. 

Ongoing study of kids and faith have reinforced Westerhoff’s point. Being meaningfully included in faith community helps kids mature into faithful adults. Faith aside, it’s also good for kids to have grownups who know and care about them, outside their family. The reverse is probably also true!

We’re re-discovering that faith isn’t a body of knowledge but a way of living. As one recent article put it, “Congregations are not providers of religious goods and services. They are dynamic, living communities of sojourners accompanying each other in discovering a Christian way of life.” (Elton & Pinkstaff)  In such a group of fellow-travelers, it makes sense that we all – regardless of age – have experiences, skills, good ideas and fruitful questions to share. 

We’re re-discovering that liturgy is learning. Our shared worship, at its best, helps shape us, week by week, year by year, into the people God calls us to be. If our shared worship is inviting and engaging – if it is comprehensible – if what we say and do is aligned with what we believe and mean – then participation in worship is part of how kids – AND adults! – continue to grow in faith. 

We are re-learning what churches should always have known, because Jesus tells us so: that our shared life of faith is incomplete without the voices and perspectives of children. The great 20th century liturgical scholar Louis Weil says, “It is not only that the child changes by being brought into the community of faith, but that the community itself changes as the mystery of another believer’s life unfolds in the context of community.” (CAWCIB, xi) 

My friend Sylvia Miller-Mutia says, “The Spirit calls together intergenerational communities because we have gifts for each other.” 

At St. Dunstan’s, we’ve spent several years now exploring what it looks like to become an intergenerational church. To borrow words from one of the wise voices on this subject, Gretchen Wolff Pritchard, we shifted the question from “How can we keep the children from disturbing us during worship?” to, “How can we invite the children into real involvement?”

And then Covid came along, and church went online for a year. We worked hard to keep elements of all-ages participation in Zoom church – with some success. Our Scripture dramas meant a lot to kids and grownups alike. 

At the same time – we lost a lot. Some kids and households just couldn’t tolerate Zoom worship. And even with the kids who were on Zoom, the rest of the congregation couldn’t hear their chatter, or pick up a lost toy, or admire a drawing, or invite them to help with a task, in the way we could in Building Church. 

We did what we could; and we held onto hope for After. 

And now – here we are, in After. Sort of.  A tentative and emerging After, that requires continued experimentation, flexibility, discernment… and hope.  

Some of our kids won’t be back in church until kids can be fully vaccinated against Covid. And some families’ habits have changed during the pandemic, and Sunday morning church may not fit anymore. 

On the other hand: we have learned that the things we do to engage kids in worship, also work well for some grownups. Pritchard puts it this way: “I am increasingly convinced that children’s liturgical needs are not qualitatively different from those of adults.” (Offering the Gospel to Children, p. 101)

For example: as we’ve added ASL gestures to certain prayers, I’ve been tickled to discover which grownups have been itching for a chance to move and use their bodies in worship. I love it when adults take the invitation to grab a coloring page and markers – or to bring their knitting project! I love that we have both kids and grownups who really like to play the xylophones at the Eucharist. 

This fall we’re trying something new for older kids and youth – and others who may opt in: Church journals. They look like this. The idea is that kids will claim and decorate a journal. Then, every week, there will be a few questions to ponder – and answer in the journal, if you want. Some are reflective – like, What am I feeling grateful for today? Was there a time this week when I felt included – or pushed out? Some are noticing questions, like, What’s my favorite part of our Scripture story today?

There’s also a standing invitation to draw or doodle while listening or praying. I’ve always listened best while doodling, myself! 

With these journals, I’m trying to strike the delicate balance between inviting attention and making space for reflection. As I was preparing them, I remembered Father Ed Tourangeau, my priest when I was my kids’ age. Father Ed always left a little silence at the end of his sermons. He did this, he explained, because he assumed that somewhere during the course of his sermon, people would get off on their own train of thought. Something he said would lead to something they needed to think about… or maybe something else entirely would float to the surface and demand their attention. With the pause at the end of the sermon, he gave people time to wrap up their thoughts and return to the room. I love the pragmatism and generosity of that approach. 

We sometimes say that people – adults and kids – should pay attention during church. Let me be clear: I do hope you pay attention during church, beloveds. But I also hope you’re not ONLY paying attention to ME – or to whoever else happens to be leading worship at the moment. I hope that sometimes your attention will be caught by a word or phrase in a prayer or Scripture or song, and that will draw you towards something you need to think about, or something God has to say to you, deep down I your heart. I hope that sometimes your attention will drift to a loved one who’s going through a hard time, and you’ll pause to hold them in God’s light. Or you notice that some moment from the past week still feels unsettled, and you’ll dwell with whether you need to make amends, or change the situation. 

Let’s be clear: You’re not an audience or a class. And your responsibility here is neither to absorb information nor to appreciate a performance. There will  be neither quiz nor ovation. For some of you, sometimes, this set-apart time, this hour on Sunday mornings, may simply be a doorway into thanks, or a silence in which another voice may speak. (Those words come from the poet Mary Oliver.)

So with the church journals – as with many other things – planning something for our kids leads to naming something that’s true for many of us. 

Putting kids and youth at the center of our common life, alongside the grownups, rather than off to the side; and believing that we grownups can learn and practice faith with and from them – that’s one of the ways we follow Jesus, at St. Dunstan’s. 

I love these passages in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus embraces children. Jesus challenges so many assumptions in his ministry. It delights me that one of them is the idea that there are places kids don’t belong; that there are things that are too important for kids to be around.

I noticed, this week, that it’s easy to think of these stories as breaks from the urgent pace of Jesus’ march towards the cross. As warm and fuzzy “Awww!” Moments – before Jesus starts talking about crucifixion again. But thanks to re-reading the whole Gospel of Mark in Father Tom’s Bible study this summer, I’m questioning that view. Mark’s Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection three times, before he enters Jerusalem and the story begins to accelerate towards the cross. That’s where these scenes fall – among those grim predictions that confuse and frighten his disciples. 

Mark is a very careful writer. Whether that reflects the actual sequence of events or Mark’s choice: it is not an accident. These scenes are not soft-focus breaks from the urgent, building action. They’re important. As Jesus predicts that God’s Messiah must suffer and die, he’s preparing his followers for a world turned upside down: the mighty cast down, the lowly lifted up, the outsider brought in, the last made first. Old ways set aside, and new kinds of communities born. 

We don’t do what we do – our shared and ongoing work towards becoming an intergenerational faith community – because kids are cute and talented, though they are. We don’t do this because Welcoming is one of our Discipleship Practices, though it is. We don’t do this because we think it will make our church grow, though it might?

We do it because we pray every week, maybe every day, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. And this is one of the ways we walk towards the kingdom, and live out God’s divine will. Because in some way beyond our full understanding, this becoming is part of the redemptive work that God in Christ is doing in and for and through St. Dunstan’s. 

May the God who has called us to this work, give us the wisdom and will to continue it. Amen. 

Online Vacation Bible School 2020: The Story of Joseph!

Our annual August intergenerational Vacation Bible School is online! We’ll do it “live” over Zoom on Sunday, August 9, though Thursday,  August 13, from 6 – 7PM every evening. (Feel free to join over dinner!) To get the Zoom link, email Rev. Miranda at or join our Facebook group.

Kids, youth and adults are all welcome! We can’t break up by age group online the same way we usually do in person, but we’ll do our best to listen, wonder, and learn together across age groups.

We’ll also make the videos & reflection materials available online for those who’d like to participate at their own pace, or have to miss a day. The materials for each day  will be added as new links below.

The Story of Joseph, Day 1: Video on Vimeo

The Story of Joseph Day 1 At-Home Reflection Materials

The Story of Joseph, Day 2: Video on Vimeo

The Story of Joseph Day 2 At-Home Reflection Materials

The Story of Joseph, Day 3: Video on Vimeo

The Story of Joseph Day 3 At-Home Reflection Materials

The Story of Joseph, Day 4: Video on Vimeo

The Story of Joseph Day 4 At-Home Reflection Materials

The Story of Joseph, Day 5: Video on Vimeo 

The Story of Joseph Day 5 At-Home Reflection Materials 

Homily/Drama, April 28

Honoring the second Sunday of Easter as a time to affirm our youth in their wondering and seeking in faith is an idea from John Westerhoff (in Will Our Children Have Faith?, pages 101-102). We decided to try it out! Thanks to the Rev. Thomas McAlpine, the Rev. Jonathan Melton, and other conversation partners in developing these ideas. 

MIRANDA: Friends, today is sometimes called Doubting Thomas Sunday. Because our Gospel is the story about Thomas, one of Jesus’ friends, and how he came to believe that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. We get the same Gospel lesson EVERY year, even though most of our Gospels only come around every three years. It’s like our Lectionary wants to shout at us every year: DO NOT DOUBT BUT BELIEVE!

But what does it mean to doubt?  Is it OK to have questions about faith, and God, and the world? … Of course it is! Is it OK to not understand everything? …  Of course it is! But if we just say, Don’t doubt! It’s bad to doubt! – and don’t talk about what doubt really is… we might all walk around with ideas like this deep down inside:


MIRANDA: So today we’re going to talk about DOUBT. We’ll draw on several Scriptures – they’re on your Sunday Supplement if you want to take a look. What does it mean to doubt? Maybe it means there are things we think we’re supposed to believe – but don’t, really. You might think you’re a Bad Christian because the church teaches that the earth was created in seven days, and that dinosaur fossils are a trick God gave us to test our faith. But you really love science, and you just can’t swallow that.

Well, good news, Bad Christian – you don’t have to! Our church doesn’t teach that the world was created in just seven days. We understand the Creation story as telling us that God is the Source of all things, and that God made all things in love – and that we’re all in this together, humans and animals and plants and oceans and stars. And science is awesome! There are lots and lots and lots of scientists who also believe in God! 

Or you might feel like you Don’t Belong Here because you’ve heard that Jesus had to die on the cross because God was so angry about how bad and sinful humans are. God was so mad that God had to punish somebody, so Jesus took the punishment for us, to protect us from God’s anger. But, man, that story does not make you feel good about God. 

Well, that one is a doozy. It’s tough because some of our prayers could point you in that direction. But good news: Your church does not ask you to believe this! That teaching is called substitutionary atonement. It is just one way – out of many – that Christians have tried to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection. But what Jesus himself says about God is that God is merciful, and loves us, and wants to be close to us.  What a relief – that angry God was pretty scary! 

It’s OK to have questions, and to wrestle with what you think about it all! Let’s hear from someone who knows about wrestling with God. This is a story from the book of Genesis. 

JACOB: Hi, everybody. My name is Jacob. I lived a really long time ago – after Abraham, but before Moses. Is anybody here a twin? … I’m a twin. I was born second, after my brother Esau. In those days, everything went to the oldest son, even if the second son was born five minutes later. I spent my life consumed by envy of my brother. He had everything – including our father’s love. Finally I crossed a line; I did something so bad that I had to run away, or my brother might have killed me.

I spent years away from home. I got married, had children, became rich. But always, I felt the pull of home. And of unfinished business with my brother. Finally I knew it was time to go home. I gathered up my wives and children and servants and flocks, and we set out. As we got close, I was more and more terrified. My parents raised me to love and trust God. But I’d spent so much time trying to take, instead of waiting for God to give. Maybe God was done with me. Maybe I’d already gotten all the good life was going to give me. 

I sent servants on ahead with gifts for my brother – goats and sheep and camels and cattle and donkeys – did I mention I was really rich? And I sent my family off without me, so that if Esau came to kill me, they could get away. And I prayed to God: ‘God, you told me, “Return to you country and your kindred, and I will do you good.” I am not worthy of the steadfast love and faithfulness you have shown to me, all these years. Save me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him!’ 

And then – someone was with me. It was pitch dark; I could not see him. But he seized me, and we began to wrestle. We struggled together all night, until daybreak. As the sky began to lighten, the stranger said, Let me go. But I said, I will not let you go unless you bless me. So the stranger blessed me, and he gave me a new name, Israel, which means: One who wrestles with God. And then the stranger disappeared. But I knew that God had been with me that night. And that day, when I met my brother, I wasn’t afraid anymore. We hugged each other, and cried, and forgave each other. 

MIRANDA: Thank you for sharing your story, Jacob! We also might think it’s Doubt when we don’t have all the answers. When there are things we don’t understand – things in the world or in our lives. Those moments when you have a friend who just found out she’s really sick, and you’re worried for her, and you just don’t understand why people get sick. Why do we have to suffer?

KING DAVID: Oh, I feel you. I remember some times when I really felt like that. 

MIRANDA: King David! My goodness! It’s an honor to meet you. You were the most famous king of Israel, and most of the Psalms were written by you or by musicians in your court.

KING DAVID: True, true.

MIRANDA: You’re telling me you had times when you were overwhelmed by suffering and confusion? But you’re famous for your deep faith. How did you talk to God, in those times? 

KING DAVID: Actually, writing poetry about it was one of the ways I handled it. Here’s a song I wrote during a tough time. You know it as Psalm 102. 

O God, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you! Don’t hide your face from me in the day of my trouble. Turn your ear towards me; when I call, hurry and answer me. For my days drift away like smoke,  and my bones feel as hot as burning coals. My heart feels as dry and brittle as withered grass; I even forget to eat my bread; I am skin and bones. I have become like a vulture in the wilderness, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake and groan; I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top. But you, O God, endure for ever, and your Name from age to age. You will arise and have compassion on your people  – for now is the time to have mercy! 

MIRANDA: Wow. Thank you. I think I should read some more of your poetry. 

KING DAVID [modestly]: I have been told that many people find it consoling. 

MIRANDA: Even in your worst moments, you turned towards God. And you weren’t afraid to tell God about it when you were hurting. So… being sad and fearful and confused, and even angry, is not the same thing as doubting God? 

KING DAVID: Not at all. If I doubted God, why would I cry out to God about my troubles? I trust God. That’s why I can complain.

MIRANDA: Wait. You just said you trust God. Jacob said that too. Don’t you mean, you believe in God? 

KING DAVID: I… don’t understand the question. 

MIRANDA: Well, in modern English, to believe means that you think something is true. Like, Cheetahs are the fastest animals. True or not true? True! Trust is different. Trust means you know that somebody is there for you, you know they are who they claim to be and will keep their commitments. You could say that belief is in your brain, and trust is in your heart – and in your relationship with somebody. 

KING DAVID: Hmmm. I see the problem. In Hebrew, the language I speak, we don’t have this… brain-only belief idea. Where you say “believe” in God, our words mean: trust God, hope in God, rely on God, seek safety in God, commit to God… How can you have a relationship with God, or anybody else, with only your brain? 

MIRANDA: That’s a good question… Thank you, O King! Hmm. But if we shift from thinking about believing in God with our brains… to trusting God with our hearts and our lives… then what do we mean by doubt?

JAMES: May I be of assistance?

MIRANDA: Excuse me – who are you?

JAMES: I am James, the brother of Jesus. I wrote a letter that’s included in the New Testament…. About what it really means to live as a person of faith. 

MIRANDA: Of course! It’s an honor to meet you. 

JAMES: I began that letter by reminding fellow Christians to stay faithful in the face of persecution – and even take joy in suffering for Christ’s sake. I said, If you need wisdom, ask God, who gives us what we need with generosity. And ask in faith, without doubting; for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.The doubter is double-minded and unstable in every way. Double-minded – that’s what I mean by doubt. Split between too many things. Trying to believe two contradictory things at the same time, or believing one thing but acting like you believed something else.

I really started thinking about doubt this way after that time when Jesus called Peter to walk on the water. It worked fine as long as Peter stayed focused on Jesus. But when he started to let his attention wander, he got scared; he lost direction; and he started to sink. Jesus grabbed him, of course – and said, “Why did you doubt?” 

Jesus didn’t mind when we had questions. Sometimes he was annoyed when we didn’t understand – but, to be fair, we were pretty slow on the uptake. He was mostly pretty patient about explaining again, and again, and again. His call on us wasn’t to have it all figured out, but to put our heart into it. To commit. That’s why I think the real meaning of doubt is trying to live by two different, contradictory scripts at the same time. 

MIRANDA: I definitely know what double-mindedness feels like. And that’s probably my biggest struggle with faithful living. I trust in God’s goodness and love. I know God is here among us, right now. But… I get distracted by many things. I get busy. I lose focus and purpose. I get double-minded, and lose my glad singleness of heart. 

But what about Thomas? The one everybody calls Doubting Thomas. That’s why we’re talking about doubt today. What can we learn about doubt from Doubting Thomas? 

THOMAS: Please don’t call me that.

MIRANDA: Oh, hello! Are you… the apostle Thomas? 

THOMAS: Yes, that’s me. 

MIRANDA: Why don’t you tell us your story? 

THOMAS: Well, okay, it’s like this.  Jesus rose from the dead. You know that part, right?  Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen him. But nobody really believed her. [shrugs]

Then one evening most of the old crowd got together. Suddenly Jesus was there among them. He showed them the wounds in his hands and his side – proof that it was really him, not an impostor, not a ghost. They were really happy to see him, of course!

I wasn’t there that night; I was visiting my mother. And when I heard about what happened, I just couldn’t believe it. My heart had been broken by Jesus’ death. I wanted to believe, do you understand? But I was afraid to hope. I told them, “Until I can touch the wounds in his hands, I just can’t believe that he’s alive.”

A week later we were all together, sharing memories. And suddenly – he was there! Jesus! In the room with us! Not an impostor, not a ghost.  And he walked right up to me and held out his hand. It was like he’d heard what I said to the others. He told me, “Here, touch the wound in my hand. Don’t be afraid, Thomas – trust: it’s really me.”

My heart felt like it might burst. I said, “My Lord! My God!” I was so glad to see him – and so grateful that he understood that I couldn’t just rely on second-hand stories. That I needed to see him myself. 

MIRANDA : Thank you for telling your story, Thomas! It reminds me a little bit of my own story. I grew up in church. I was always surrounded by people who believed in God – trusted in God. I heard their stories of times when they’d heard God’s voice or met God, in so many different ways. That was important for me, as I grew up. 

But it was also really important for me to meet God myself. To have my own times when I felt God close by, or heard God’s voice in my heart or in someone else’s words. 

What I’m saying, Thomas, is that what happened for you, and what happened for me, is what I want for all our kids and youth – and grownups, too! We should all have our own meetings with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit. And we should be a community where we can tell those stories, and encourage each other – whether we’re wrestling like Jacob, or crying out to God like King David, or feeling double-minded, or seeking a clearer sense of God in our lives. 

Friends, we wonder about God and seek God at every age – but the teenage years are an especially important time for seeking your own understanding of faith and your own experiences of God. So later this morning we are trying out a new custom: of celebrating that we have young people moving into that exciting season, and committing to being their companions on that journey.

For our teens, Friday night youth group is their primary faith community. Some of them also participate in church on Sunday morning – but mostly at the 10am service. But some of you know some of them. And you may find opportunities to know them better, and be one of the faithful grownups in their lives. – faithful both in the sense of having your own faith story and faith questions to share, and faithful in sticking with them through the challenges of young adulthood. 

I ask you to make a commitment to our youth today: to be unafraid of questions; to speak honestly from our own lives and hearts, instead of saying what we think grownups are supposed to say; and to be brave enough to wonder with them. 

And if their questions and their vision stretches or challenges us, we will rise to it; because we love them, and we trust that God is at work in their lives, and, through them, in the life of this church. 

Friends, will we make this commitment to our young people today? 


MIRANDA: Names, we acknowledge that as you move into young adulthood, you are thinking about what your church and your faith have offered you in new ways. As you think about God and yourself and the world, you’ll probably have new thoughts and new questions. Like Jacob, you may find yourself wrestling with God; like Thomas, you may find that second-hand faith isn’t good enough for you, and seek your own experience of the Divine. We, as your household of faith, affirm this journey and this work.  At your baptisms, your churches promised to do all in our power to support you in your life in Christ. Today, that means making space for your maturing, and all that it involves. 

What we ask of you is to trust us as companions on this journey. Trust us with the little questions, the things you think you’re probably already supposed to know. You’d be surprised how many of us wonder, too. Trust us with the big questions, knowing that we have wrestled with them too; and that even though some of those big questions don’t have easy answers, we find purpose and truth here. Seek out friends among the grownups of this household of faith, and call on us for support and wondering together. And if it ever starts to feel like this church is too small for you, I invite you to talk to me or another trusted grownup here; we may be able to show you doors into rooms you didn’t even know about. (Metaphorically speaking!) 

Friends, will you make this commitment today? I invite you respond, We will. 

We will. 

Loving God, we commit all our struggle, our lament, our double-mindedness and our seeking to you, trusting that Scripture, tradition, and community are worthy companions on the way; that God is mystery enough to keep us wondering for a lifetime; and that Jesus Christ is Friend enough to walk with us through this and every season. Amen. 

Sermon, Feb. 3

I’d like to ask the kids in the room to listen up. I’m going to read you something, and then I want to know what you think about it. Listen:  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” How does that make you feel? … 

Okay, now I’m going to read you something else. These words come from the great prophet Jeremiah. He says, “The Word of God came to me saying, “Before you were born I set you apart for a special call: I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But GOD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Don’t be afraid of them, for I am with you.”  How does that make you feel? … 

Thank you so much for listening and sharing your thoughts! I’m going to keep talking now, the way that grownups do. Carry on coloring or drawing – I hope you’ll show me your work, later. 

Here’s what I notice about these readings. Paul isn’t actually talking about growing up, here. He’s talking about how we’re only able to see a little bit of God’s greater purposes, and we do not understand the unfolding of the reign of God. So we do best when we simply steer by Love, because that will always lead us true.

Paul is using growing up as a metaphor – saying that now we have a limited, “childlike” understanding of God and the cosmos, but one day we will understand fully – all those great mysteries will be opened to us. So he’s saying some wonderful and important things in this passage. But in the process, he reveals that he thinks kids’ words and thoughts are definitely second-best. I guess he’s forgotten the time when Jesus picked up a little child, and said to his friends, “Listen, unless you all change and become like little children, you’re never going to find your way into the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

On the other hand, we have young Jeremiah. This was our assigned Old Testament lesson today; we shared the Candlemas story instead. But I just told you most of it. Jeremiah was a boy when he was called as a prophet. And he says, God, I don’t know how to talk to important people! I’m just a kid! And God says, Don’t say, I’m just a kid! You can do this. I’ll be with you. 

Our Gospel story is kind of related to that Jeremiah story. Jesus – who is a grownup at this point – is beginning his public ministry. It’s a really important moment. He goes back to his hometown, Nazareth, where he was brought up. He goes to the synagogue, the local house of worship, where people read Scripture and talk about what it means together. And he reads these words from the prophet Isaiah, saying that he has been anointed to begin God’s great work of healing and redemption! And everyone’s staring at him wide-eyed, they’re really impressed; but what are they saying to each other?  “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy?”

They like what he’s saying, but they’re having a hard time taking him seriously, because they remember him as a child. They think he’s getting above his raising, for one thing. But also, a lot of people, if they knew someone as a child, have a hard time seeing them as a grown-up. How many of us have gone back to where we came from, one way or another, and found that the older generation there still thinks of us as who we were when we were six or ten or sixteen? They still see you as a child; and they don’t take you seriously, because we don’t take children seriously. 

We have this idea that kids’ words and thoughts are not as good, not as important, not as sophisticated. That grownup ways of doing things as better and more important. Jeremiah thought that. Who told him that kids can’t do God’s work? The grownups in his life, that’s who. And Paul thought it too. “I used to think like a child, but then I grew up and put away childish ways!” And we still think this. Our kids get this message over and over again. I would say that in the 21st century, we take kids more seriously than many previous generations of humanity did – but we still don’t take them all that seriously. If you raised your kids in an earlier generation, you might feel like kids today have the world revolving around them. But I promise you, these kids all know what it feels like to have their words and needs not listened to – not believed – even laughed at – because they’re just kids, and the grownups know better. 

 Paul is right in a way: kids are different from grownups. Kids are not short adults. Kids bring different ideas, perspectives, and needs; and of course kids aren’t all alike – different kids, and different ages of kids, have their own ways of being and thinking and participating. We’ve tried just inviting kids to be part of what the grownups like to do – churches have been trying that for generations, and it doesn’t work terribly well! (A friend once told me, Grownups like to sit around and talk about stuff; they should be in Sunday school. Kids like to march around, play with fire, tell stories, and sing – they should be in church!) 

Kids’ voices, kids’ calls, kids’ prayers, kids’ contributions may be different from those of grownups. It would be silly to expect them to be the same. Of course part of what’s different is that we learn and grow. As we get older, we have life experiences, we meet more kinds of people, we encounter different ideas, we reflect on it all; and our understanding of the world gets bigger and more complex. (Ideally!) But there’s something about the freedom and clarity and playfulness and truth of young minds that don’t have all that grownup stuff muddying them up yet – I think that’s why Jesus told his friends they needed to think more like little kids. 

So: Sure, kids are kids. They haven’t seen or read or done or thought about as much stuff as your average grownup has, yet. And: God can absolutely work in them and through them. God can absolutely strengthen and guide our fellowship of faith, though the presence and ministry of our kids. God can absolutely have a word for us grownup types, though the voices of our children. Liturgical scholar Louis Weil writes this about why kids belong in church: “It is not only that the child changes by being brought into the community of faith, but that the community itself changes as the mystery of another believer’s life unfolds in the context of community.” (Children at Worship, Congregations in Bloom, xi) And Sylvia Mutia-Miller, one of the wisest voices in the Episcopal Church on kids’ belonging in church, says that adults don’t often anticipate mutuality in relationships with kids. 

We expect those relationships to be one directional – grownups helping or teaching kids, and kids receiving. But, she says: The Spirit calls together intergenerational communities because we have gifts for each other. 

I’m not talking about romanticizing or idealizing kids. Yes, they say cute stuff and funny stuff sometimes. But kids’ dignity is important to them; they don’t want to be seen as just cute and funny. I’m talking about hearing and receiving kids’ questions, hopes, ideas, needs, and yes, sometimes, their prophetic words. 

And I’m not talking about privileging kids over adults. I know sometimes it probably feels that way – we are so used to adults being at the center of church life, and kids being off to the side somewhere, that moving kids towards the center – not TO the center, not even close, but closer – moving kids towards the center, naming them as full members of our faith community, can feel like adults are losing something. If you feel that now and then, dear ones, I ask you to try to trust that instead, we are gaining something. And bear in mind that as of right now, I believe *one* of our church committees has a kid member. Nearly every decision made in the life of this parish is made with little or no input from our 18 and younger population. I hope we’ll reexamine that together in the months ahead. Because that is what I’m talking about: Not putting kids and youth at the top of the ladder, but bringing them to their rightful place at the table, alongside the grownups. 

And let me be clear – I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating – that making space for kids and youth to be fully heard and fully included makes more space for many grownups, too. Here are some notable things about kids: Kids are open with their questions; they’re upfront with what they like and what they don’t; if they wonder what we’re doing or why things are the way they are, they’ll speak up about it; they usually let you know when they’re upset, and they bring their whole selves to whatever they do. 

Well: A lot Episcopal churches have a culture in which people don’t ask questions, at least not the real ones; pretend they know what’s going on even if they don’t; sure as heck don’t let people know if they’re upset;  and bring only the respectable, well-dressed, together parts of themselves to church. But kids are not the only ones who sometimes feel like they don’t have much to offer, or that they’re only welcome if they act like everybody else.

So, grownup friends in Christ, what if welcoming and including kids helps us welcome and include each other – and even ourselves! – as people who have questions! As people who have likes and dislikes, hopes and fears!  As people who wonder why things are the way they are! As people who hurt. As people who need to be able to wear their whole selves in public – here, if nowhere else in your life! – within the safety of a community of mutual flourishing and holy friendship, in which together we seek to be transformed and empowered by that Love that is patient and kind; that is never envious, or arrogant, or rude; that does not insist on its own way, and is not irritable or resentful; that never rejoices in another’s failure or misfortune. That Love that bears all things; believes all things;  hopes all things;  endures all things… and never, never ends. 

Sabbatical report, January 2019

Prepared for our Parish Annual Meeting, Sunday, January 20, 2019. 

2018 was quite a year, friends. I just want to say a few words about our OTHER big accomplishment of the year, besides a successful capital campaign:  having your rector go on sabbatical, and handling that really well. Other clergy ask me, “How was re-entry?” And I say, “It was amazing! They really did a great job!” And it’s true. There were no hot potatoes that someone was desperate to hand off to me. I was able to take my time getting up to speed and reconnecting. I’m so grateful. 

Special thanks go out to Deanna and Claudia, for working closely with Father Jonathan to keep our liturgical life running smoothly; Sharon, Krissy, and SO many others for planning and leading the many intergenerational renewal programs during my absence; Shirley, Michelle, Val, and Gloria, our wardens & treasurers, for keeping steady hands on the helm, & Sarah Stender, for getting our annual pledge drive off the ground. And to Tom, John, and Laura, for support with pastoral care. I’m always terrified of listing names, for fear I’ll forget someone who did important work. In my defense, in this case, I’m talking about stuff that happened when I was not actually here! But I know so many of you did so much while I was away, to participate in the renewal events and to help keep normal church stuff rolling along. Thank you. 

If you haven’t heard much about what I did or what the parish did, or want a refresher, I commend to you both my report on my sabbatical focused on intergenerational worship, and the report Sharon Henes wrote about the parish’s activities, which are on our website under the “Fellowship & Learning” tab. If reading on the website is a hardship, we can absolutely print them out for you. 

So what next? How will these ideas and directions continue in our parish life? Well, in worship, we’re trying a lot of little things and a few medium-sized things (like the new tables at the front of the church for older kids) to help shift the question, as Caroline Fairless puts it, from “Can the kids sit through this?” to, “How could we do this so it’s engaging and meaningful?” A next step will be gathering some folks to talk about roles in our liturgy. What do people do now as part of our liturgy (like acolytes, ushers, MCs), and are there ways to increase opportunities for participation? The gift-noticing we’re doing this Epiphany may help feed that conversation. 

We are also practicing noticing and reflecting on what happens in worship, via email, after every Sunday morning. Those “What did you notice?” emails go out to people who prepared and led worship, but if you notice something and want to share it, you can always email me. 

Outside of worship, we plan to continue regular intergenerational gatherings, including looking for ways things we already do could be more intentionally intergenerational. And of course, there are much larger questions about what it means to be an intergenerational church. Right now I and others are pretty busy with the final development of renovation plans, but when that eases off a little, it may be time for us to call a working group to assess, reflect, and imagine together. If that’s something you’d like to be part of, talk to me; to senior warden Krissy Mayer; or to Christian Formation coordinator Sharon Henes!

Thank you, each and all!


Intergenerational Renewal Survey Report

Report to St. Dunstan’s Vestry, Prepared by Sharon Henes, November 2018

In August we embarked on a season of intergenerational renewal, during Rev. Miranda’s sabbatical, and by the end of October we achieved a deeper understanding of each other and built a foundation of new relationships.  Many people went into this experience thinking our church was built on two generations –kids and adults but we realized our church has layers of generations.  Numbers can’t quantify our experience but approximately 90-100 members of the congregation participated in at least one activity during the sabbatical intergenerational renewal!  That in itself is both amazing and exciting!  (Equally amazing was there was very little negative feedback throughout the sabbatical or reported in the surveys.)  Some of the members who did not participate indicated to me an appreciation for the intergenerational renewal project and that they were experiencing benefits.  At the beginning of the sabbatical, I challenged everyone to get to know someone who is 15 years older or younger themselves and the vast majority of people met that challenge.  

Reflecting on the season, there are some definite points to keep in mind moving forward:

  • There is a desire for frequent intergenerational activities.
  • Intentional inclusion of members that attend the two services, including communication.
  • Creating and maintaining a community is important. 
  • Continue the conversations about the differences and similarities among the generations and the impact on our shared life in this community.
  • We like each other and like spending time together.

Events and activities took place on weekends with the exception of SaintFest and the campfires. SaintFest ran for 5 consecutive evenings and the campfires were on one Wednesday night and two Thursday nights.  Our intergenerational renewal project included the following activities:

  • SaintFest, our intergeneration vacation bible school
  • Postcard Pals in September and October
  • Campfires in August, September, October.  Each included a simple meal.
  • August campfire featured singing around the campfire.
  • September campfire featured Festival of Booths.
  • October campfire featured conversations around the campfire.
  • Game Night
  • Church Grounds Nature Hike 
  • Book Discussions: Wishtree (September), Miss Rumphius (October)
  • Understanding Generations Discussions
  • Kids in Church (September)
  • Boomers, Xers and Millennials (October )
  • Museum Field Trips: UW Geology Museum (September), Chazen Art Museum (October)
  • Art Show and Poetry Readings
  • Tea Party
  • Throughout the renewal project, our adult and children choirs collaborated on music

This sabbatical intergenerational renewal experience had several benefits for the church members.  The most cited benefits are:

  • People interacted with other people that they would not ordinarily interact with.
  • People met new people.
  • People got to know each other better.
  • People felt more connected with members of our church family (both at the events and outside the events).
  • People gained a better understanding of the generations in our church.

People did not want the experience to end with the end of the sabbatical.  (Several expressed to me a concern that momentum of this experience will end.)  As we move forward beyond this season of renewal, we want the following:

  • Continue the events, including the following:
  • Field trips.  Ideas suggested include: Spring picnic at Cave of the Mounds; International Crane Foundation; Planetarium; Historical Museum; Horicon Marsh
  • Fellowship activities.  Ideas suggested include:
    • Tea Parties
    • Monthly campfires
    • Paint Night
    • Book discussions
    • Polka Dance Night
    • Gardening and Grounds activities
    • Shared meals and conversations
  • Postcard Pals – at least once a year!
  • Intergenerational VBS
  • Discussions around the various generations
  • Interactions among the generations (prior church activities/events seemed segregated by age)
  • Remember we all have a story and gifts to share

Sermon, All Saints Sunday

Welcome and peace to all of you, people of St Dunstan’s! Welcome to guests and to those returning from afar; it is so good to be with you. Welcome to that fellowship divine of the faithful departed, who are always with us but whom we call to mind especially today. The household of God includes people who left this earth centuries ago; people whose passed from among us recently, like Lou, Ginny, George, Jeff; and people who have just begun their life in this world – like the babies  whom we have the blessing of baptizing this morning. 

Not all churches baptize babies! Some churches teach that it doesn’t make sense to baptize a baby who can’t believe what our church teaches or even understand it. I respect that position, but it’s not how our church does things. We confess in all humility that if a real Christian is someone who can diagram the Trinity, comprehend the Incarnation, or explain the Eucharist… then none of us belong here. As Episcopalians, Christians in the Anglican way, we follow the church’s ancient pattern and baptize infants – as well as kids or adults who seek to join Christ’s Body the Church.

Our church thinks of baptism a lot like birth. There’s a completeness to it – a newborn baby is a whole person. And yet, obviously, it’s also just a beginning. That baby still has to be loved and fed and sheltered and taught and raised to maturity. That nurture and growth might happen in the family that shares the baby’s genetic material, or it might turn out that another household is the best place for that child’s flourishing – and the same is true with churches: some of us come to maturity in the church that birthed us, some find a new faith home. But either way, somebody’s got to raise that baby. Baptism, which is birth into God’s household, is just a start. When we, as a church, baptize babies – when I ask, “Will all of you do everything in your power to support this person in his life in Christ?” and you shout, “WE WILL!” – we are taking on the responsibility, together, along with their parents, godparents, and siblings, of raising that child to know and love God, and to find comfort and courage in a community of faith, throughout their lives. 

Let’s be honest, though: Churches are inconsistent at best in following through on that commitment. I’ve gone looking, friends, and from what I’ve seen, 

churches that understand nurturing faith in their children as a core part of their common life are few and far between. (I’m proud that St Dunstan’s is one of them – though we’ve got lots of room to grow!) Our prayer book clearly states that baptism is our church’s rite of full initiation by water and the holy spirit: a baptized baby is a full member of the church! Yet churches find so many ways to tell kids that they are only “junior” members. That their presence is disruptive or unwelcome; that their needs are secondary. 

What does it take for a church to live deeply into its commitment to raise its children in faith? I came back from my sabbatical, focused on intergenerational worship, with some thoughts. Here are few of them.

First, we grownups need to be extra mindful about kids’ dignity. Dignity – like in the baptismal covenant: “Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” And like in the song: “And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Dignity is a tough word to define, though we all know what it feels like when our dignity takes a hit. Adults can sometimes forget that kids need their dignity tended just as much as grownups do – maybe even more. One weekend during my sabbatical, Iona and I visited a church in a big city that advertised a Sunday morning service where children “actively engage in the readings, sermon, and Communion.” The service began with a responsive prayer led by a child, a boy, maybe 7 years old. The only problem was, the microphone was attached to a lectern, like this, and it was too tall for him. So his mom had to hold him up around his waist while he led the prayer. At first I thought, Awwww. What a nice icon of an adult supporting a child’s ministry. But then, after the prayer, the boy and his mom walked past us on their way back to their seat, and I could see that he was furious. That was humiliating and uncomfortable for him. He was given a role, but he wasn’t given a way to do it that honored his dignity. 

This dignity thing is a big, broad general principal; it’ll take a while, and probably lots of talking and listening, to figure out all its implications. For example: I’m trying to get out of the habit of patting kids on the head. It’s hard because their heads are RIGHT THERE. But they’re not dogs; they’re people. And even with a dog, I’d give the dog a chance to show me whether it wanted me to touch it or not. Grownups and kids are different in important ways, but it can still be helpful to ask yourself, Would I do this to a grownup? If not, is there a reason to make a different decision with a child? 

Respecting kids’ dignity leads to a second core way churches can live into our commitment to our kids: By taking kids’ belonging and participation here as seriously as we take grownups’. One of the people I interviewed who really thinks deeply about kids and church, Sylvia Mutia-Miller, said, “The best way we can honor any person is to believe they are capable of things.” Kids have particular gifts and skills to contribute to our common life, just like grownups do. Our friend Sir Bjorn, who is a knight, talked about how in his organization, the Society for Creative Anachronism, they try to match jobs for kids to what the kids are good at and like to do. LOUD kids make good heralds. FAST kids make good messengers and gophers. KIDS WHO LIKE TO DO STUFF WITH THEIR HANDS make good Duct Tape Pages, going around to fix broken weaponry and such. 

Yet in churches we often assign kids jobs based only on age: When you’re seven, you can be an acolyte. If acolyting isn’t really your jam, or if acolyting is fine but you’d like to do more… sorry! This is something I really want your help to think about here, friends – kids and grownups. We can ask kids: What are you good at that you think would help our church and be a gift to us all? What could we do differently that would give you more chance to participate and contribute? That’s a good question for grownups who would like to be more involved, too! 

Finally, we raise faithful kids by filling their hearts and minds and imaginations with holy stories of justice and mercy, hope and courage. Gretchen Wolff Prichard, the amazing Christian educator who creates the “Sunday Papers” we use, says we have to avoid the temptation to offer children a “kiddie Gospel” of “Everything is fine.” Kids know everything isn’t fine, and pretending it is, is much scarier than talking about the truth. Writing about All Saints Day, Gretchen challenges churches to go beyond the message that we’re all saints, chosen, called, and sanctified – which is true! – and point out that living a holy life and resisting evil is hard, sometimes scary work. We need stories of someone small but brave, who prevails against evil with the help of friends and of a mysterious Power of Good. That reminded me of our Christmas pageant last year – who remembers it? Was the Devil involved? … What was he trying to do? He was trying to keep Joseph and Mary from getting to a safe place to have the baby, and to keep the shepherds from coming to welcome and honor the baby! (And who’s the baby?) And how was the Devil defeated? Yes – the people recognized him, and the Angel drove him away! Writer Boze Herrington says: “As much as kids need food and shelter, they also need stories to teach them that there are monsters that need fighting, and good worth fighting for.” The Church has stories like that – so many. Let’s keep telling them to each other. 

Who knows what a simile is? It’s when you show that one thing is like another thing, to help you look at the first thing in a new way. My friend Father John has a wonderful simile about baptism: He says it’s like making pickles. Can you just go pick a pickle? …So, then, where do pickles come from? You take a cucumber and you dunk it in brine – salty water, with maybe some peppers or herbs in it too. Maybe that’s like baptism! And then… you WAIT. It takes a while, but slowly, over time, the brine gets inside the cucumber and it changes. It becomes something else. It becomes… a pickle. Maybe that’s like growing up in church! Pickling each other, over weeks and months and years, by guarding each one’s dignity, and raising up each one’s gifts, and sharing holy stories that give us courage for the hard work of justice and mercy in our time and place. 

Poet Russell Brand says, “If we become the kind of people that can change the world, then the world will change.” May it be so. Amen.