By JC Mitchell
I have done many children’s moments in my day. I have had wonderful ones and I have had bombs, and many did not go as I expected, but that is now what I expect. Now many young children barely understand what is being said, or why they are forced up front to talk to the person in the robe. It is part of the traditional church to bring all the children forward, even before they want to, for the conversation about Jesus. At my last call, either I or my wife would bring our son AJ forward for the moment often done by a lay person. Now, young children often need to be encouraged forward and contained, but AJ did not need to be encouraged forward; however, he did need to be held. AJ has autism, is four years old, and he struggles with sitting still. Honestly, I do as well--I have often said I became a minister so I would not have to sit still in worship.
Now my wife and I are in separate calls--three to be exact--thus Sunday morning we are in separate worship services. So one of us must take AJ to worship, and I did this past Sunday at my traditional morning service. The congregation has met AJ, and had observed how difficult it is to keep him attentive in the service and especially the children’s moment, but this was the first time when I would be doing it without my wife there to keep him somewhat contained. I had a lot of help keeping him in the pew and I knew he would go with the other children during the remainder of the service, but during the Children’s moment I would bring him up with me. I went forward with him, sat down, and grabbed my prop, which was a Soccer ball that I used to discuss about being prepared by wearing cleats, shin guards, and jerseys, as the scripture was the Pauline armor of God. It went well, as AJ generally ran around, visited the pianist, took the ball two or three times, and I was able to get him in my lap for prayer. It worked, mostly because I have learned to not worry about AJ’s behavior, especially where he should be included, like church.
The dialogue sermon went well as did the entire service, and during the sacred coffee fellowship I was greeted by many with positive notes. Generally I look more for feedback, for I learn more, but then I received a compliment that made my day. The gentleman said something about how impressed he was with my non-anxious presence with my son as I led worship. I must admit I had to fight back the tears, for it has become who I have to be all the time and it is not easy, but in worship my non-anxious presence must be doing more than simply protecting me from glares and pity. My presence demonstrates what inclusivity means at the Table.
Later that Sunday, I did what I do often: I posted the thought to a social media site, and I believe my friend Rev. Manny Santiago summed it up well with his post:
"Maybe what we at church need to do every now and then is to join AJ (or any other kid) and run around instead! Isn't worship about freedom after all?"
Manny is right! The day before this service, our family went to Wild Goose Festival West, and among the great speakers and wonderful music, we chased AJ everywhere. Then AJ and I went to Beer and Hymns, where Mindi would meet up with us there. AJ was intrigued. It was the traditional music, but most everyone was up and active like AJ. He moved in closer, got stuck in the crowd, and an older gentleman helped him over a bench as I watched. He was out in the middle of the singing. He stood much of the time watching the guitarist, and even strung the guitar often. I thanked the guitarist later for letting him participate. I have never seen AJ saw so calm in worship, so intrigued and engaged. Manny is right: we do need to join AJ. We need to embrace a freedom from our adult socialization and to honk with the Spirit.
“…Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’” (Matthew 19:14) This passage has greater meaning after this weekend from the festival and church. Honestly, every day when my son struggles with socialization, he seems to reveal the Spirit for me and many others as well. I will run around with the Spirit with no care what others think, until I am utterly calm and able to hear the still small voice.