words and movie shared at church this morning:
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a year and a half ago, i added up the number of children enrolled in our church preschool since 1994 and got the sum of 826. adding another 47 from this year we reach 873. my body still slumps back in gratitude for the safety we’ve experienced. aside from a couple of close calls, bumps and bruises, we’ve escaped injury requiring emergency care, we’ve been spared accusations, we’ve not known overwhelming illness. it is with continued humble gratitude that i’ve had the honor of working for the church in this capacity.
i was invited to direct and teach a summer day care program here at new creation fellowship church as part of bethel college’s ministry inquiry program. i went back to bethel college in fall of 1994 and finished my degree in elementary education with an emphasis in early childhood education. after graduation, i was invited to begin a school year preschool program here at new creation fellowship church. after hours of discernment as a church community, many times around the circle sharing, hesitations expressed, in fall of 1995 we began new creation preschool and with minor changes here and there, we just finished our 16th year.
there was a roll of masking tape – blue with random scribbles drawn on the inside of the cardboard roll, making it identifiable. that tape was used at the project table at preschool. that tape hung up a brainstorming list at a congregational meeting. that tape was taken into a circle of junior high youth group kids. i found that roll of tape in the sanctuary once. then it ended up back in the basement. that roll of tape found itself in almost every corner of our church life.
the common ground and shared spaces of this church life are plenty.
i admit come from a long line of people who can make something out of nothing…nothing out of seemingly everything…see redemption in almost anything… get teary at the simple re-telling of meeting a stranger, telling each other, “hey…there’s a sermon in that…”, i’ve also been told i can blow sunshine up places not appropriate to mention here…and i know i can spin reality to a level of decency that it doesn’t deserve…but it comes from a genuine place.
so may i suggest, the heaven-on-earth moments in the walls of this church are plenty.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 1:6-10
i can imagine a parade-like procession with a young child, perhaps with triangular flag at the end of a branch, leading animals through a meadow with trees in the background. a simple line drawing with muted colors filling the white spaces.
and may it be so someday…
because i also imagine that before this parade-like procession, there were the horrors of being a child. from the blatant, vile abuse to the seemingly benign glances that alter a child’s sense of self. the fear of trouble shaping who a child is. the determination to stay safe keeping a child from freedom. the heaviness of dimly lit spaces slowly changing a child. the vulnerable, powerless child always a moment away from pain.
the preschool ministry of our church is a bit like the parade-like procession. we tie triangular fabric on the end of sticks for flags, we take turns leading each other down neighborhood sidewalks and through the grass. there are colors and trees. we have glitter, rainbows, fruits, vegetables, crayons, scissors, glue, dolls, trucks, cozy corners, rocking chairs, pillows, blankets, puzzles, paint, games, balls, hills, sidewalks. we have conversations about the resurrection of christ, zombies, death, surgery, heaven, hell, parents losing jobs, the number of iPads in the home, child birth and time outs. there is fighting and punching, biting, name calling, kicking, hair pulling, scratching, yelling and crying. there are children who don’t want to leave preschool and children who don’t want to come. there are teachers prying children off of parents. there are teachers convincing children it’s time to go home. then there are paper towels wet with cool water, a drink offered in a tiny glass cup, blankets of rainbow yarn, band-aids that rarely get touched with actual blood, stories read, plans made, circle time talks, school family conversations, accountability.
we strive to save the dignity of each child, to get on a child’s level, to keep eyebrows raised and voices gentle, to be silly, to maintain order, to listen. the greatest joy in my job is keeping children safe. safe from physical hurt, limited love, boredom, stifling redirection, fear, loneliness and apathy. we don’t yell at them, we don’t hit them, we don’t hold them down, we don’t threaten them. we’ll hold them and hug them. we’ll get serious and real. we’ll set boundaries and celebrate. we’ll repeat ourselves and say thank you. we’ll feed them and wipe noses. we’ll change soiled clothes and treat them like we’d want to be treated when naked and vulnerable. like shepherds, we count them. like investigators, we watch their expressions. like mama hens, we gather them in.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16
one day not long ago, i felt the warmth of a little friend’s hand pressed on my leg. like never before, at that moment i knew to never assume it again. i was blessed.
a bit like that roll of tape that found itself all over this place, the holiness of hundreds of tiny, dirty hands, wide, small feet, trusting, open eyes, moving, breathing bodies have graced every corner of this building.
the preschool for these children is created by adults…the teachers, the parents, the church folks, the neighbors, the cleaning people, the community workers. together this space is created and this space inevitably means something different to everyone involved.
no matter what this space means to you, may i suggest that you are blessed by the simple knowledge that children have walked here.