We attend a very small church almost every week. It's a satellite of a much larger, more ornate and older church in a nearby town--I calculated once that it might hold 100 people at full capacity, 120 tops. It's closer to our house than the big church, and also has a much less crazy parking situation: both of these were handy, but what kept us going back was its very smallness.
As you might have predicted, Thing Two did not take well to church when he first started attending. Until he was three, we didn't even try--Himself and I traded off, with one of us taking Thing One to church and the other staying home with Thing Two and Petunia. Even at three, he was a raging handful. Nothing like trying to get a kid with ADHD and severe language comprehension issues to sit still and be quiet for 45 minutes...fortunately for us, the parking lot is safe to walk around in during the service, because we spent a lot of time out there with him the first few months.
I think we would have given up entirely at some point but for the kindness of the other churchgoers. Precisely because it is so small a place, they almost all already knew us and knew how hard we were trying to bring our children to services and get them to behave. And since most of them are much older than we, the majority have had kids themselves and have been there--people sitting around us would tell us that it was okay and that Thing Two wasn't bothering them when he made noise, even when he probably was.
And then, thank God for the intelligence lurking under all the crossed auditory-language wires, the child learned to read. By four, he could handle Dr. Seuss on his own, and his ability improved rapidly thereafter. Being able to hand him a missal and have him follow along during the services made all the difference in the world--all of a sudden, he had a clue what was going on and it was like a lightbulb had illuminated over his head. He was still wiggly, but at least finally capable of staying in the building for a full service. Now he reads along and sings along and we are very happy to buy him the post-church donut or bagel that his good behavior has earned him!
For the most part, it's some subset of the same people there every week. A few tourists here and there, but familiar faces all around otherwise. The snow white-haired organist, who is 92 and sometimes dozes off between songs; she was a pianist on cruise ships in the 1940s. Her loyal husband, who sits in a chair beside her organ bench to keep her company. He can't make it up the aisle for Communion anymore, so one of the lay ministers always brings it back to him. Everyone knows to do this. The elderly professor and widower who served for years (alongside his late wife, a former teacher in the community) as the driving force behind keeping this tiny church open. We're all happy to see that he has recently found a new companion; there's light in his eyes again. The family with four daughters in their twenties, one or another of whom is almost always the cantor. The staggeringly beautiful, elegant African-American ex-model (often a lector or lay minister) and her quiet Austrian husband. The usher, a proud retired Marine never seen without his gold USMC pin, who has a grandson with issues similar to Thing Two's. It was his idea to have the small children in attendance bring up the gifts for the offertory each week, and he included Thing Two from the get-go, even back in the early days when he probably shouldn't have. He's the kind of guy who would rather put rubber bands around the tops of the bread and wine containers to make sure they wouldn't spill if accidentally dropped on their way up the aisle than see a child left out. (When was the last time you saw that done in a big church??)
And then we have our priests. As a small satellite church, we almost never get the parish pastor. Our service is held at the same time as one of those at the big church, and he chooses to preside there instead. For several years, we had a priest borrowed from a neighboring parish, a kindhearted and easygoing Ugandan who came to us by way of Colombia. It was while he was with us that Thing One began to help at the altar during the service (he was the only child attending this church of the right age) and he was very patient and encouraging through the inevitable mistakes and stage fright! He is far more concerned with substance than form; a good man throughout. We were very sad when he was recalled to his home parish to work with the Spanish-speaking population there.
Thinking about this today because of this priest's successor. He's been retired for years now, but comes back to help on Sundays and has been with us for about a year. He cannot get Petunia's (real) name right to save his life, but I don't have the heart to correct him because he is such a good soul! Thing One is his regular helper during the service also--he's still the only child who serves at this church. Last week, we let the priest know that he has a soccer tournament today and would not be able to help this week; Himself and Thing One went to soccer and I went to church with the younger two. There is a very solemn part of the service during which the intentions (prayers) of the community are read aloud; the priest unexpectedly added a prayer for Thing One and his soccer team at the end of these today! Not a typical intention, to say the least.
I texted Himself after church to tell him about this. He replied that Thing One had drilled the game-winning penalty kick in the first of today's two games and that maybe we need to have the congregation say a prayer for him more often!
Unfortunately, my faith is not always as sturdy as it could be. The older I get, the more questions I have, many of which seem to have no good answers. (And you had better believe that my son does not leave my sight at church, for he will NOT be a victim on my watch no matter how unlikely it seems that any of our priests would even consider such a terrible thing.) I am not always sure what I believe and what I don't.
But I am sure that being part of this inclusive, welcoming community is good for my soul and good for my family, and that's enough.
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