During the book study for "Dear Church" that I participated in this year, one particular lesson really hit hard for me. I can't remember the exact details of how we got into the conversation, but it made me think of the work I did here as your Youth and Family Coordinator in the time before Covid. I grew up in a home with parents that were alive in Europe during World War II, and then lived through the invasion of their home country of Hungary by the Russians
in 1956. My parents were a generation older than pretty much any of my friends, and I had a really strict upbringing. Although I hated it as a teenager, I found myself very thankful for the way I was brought up as I became an adult. Mind you, my parents and I didn't always share the same views on things. They were pretty conservative in their attitudes towards things
and people, and always reminded me that I was not an "American kid" (although I absolutely was, born and raised here!). They wanted me to hold to the expectations they had as people of Europe during the war.
One of the places that came across most strongly were in discussions of church. My mother was raised Catholic. My father was raised what would probably be called Calvinst, or Protestant Reformed I believe. Although they were both believers in God and had a strong faith, they were not ones to attend church in the states. My father's excuse was always that he couldn't hear because it was too noisy. Too many kids. He grew up in a time where the children did not sit in on the service, or if they did, they certainly were never heard. So I attended on my own, sitting with a friend's family for many years until I fell away from it in high school and didn't go back on my own until college. I can remember my own kids being small here in this church and I was always very strict with them on not being noisy in service, for fear there was another congregant that felt like my father. The funny thing was, that if anyone else's child was loud, it truly never bothered me. When I started teaching our youth for Sunday School, Communion classes, and Confirmation, I realized however, that I carried those very strict perspectives into those classes. I expected our youth to act probably more mature than any of them were capable of or should have been. I had a lot of rules about what you could do at the altar rail, how to dress as an acolyte, how you should behave in service (some pretty petty stuff actually). As I look back
on it and I see the decline of youth taking part in religion as a whole, I realize I was doing a disservice to our youth. I should have extended my same attitude toward people in life outside of the church to all those that walked in those doors.
In my personal life, I have always tried to embrace people's uniqueness. I think our world is made exactly as God intended. A mix of everything different and yet all created in the image of God himself. But I wasn't willing to accept that when it came to how teens can act or how they can live out their faith. I wanted them to follow the set of standards and rules I had growing up in the church. Our world isn't the same as it was back then, and the way we approach our faith needs to change and evolve just as our world has. I fear I not only alienated some of the kids from this congregation with my need to be "proper" in the way we worshipped, but I know for a fact I alienated at least two of my own kids. For that I will always be sorry, and continue to pray that God reaches out to them in the way only he can, so they find how faith works in their lives.
So as I come back to this position temporarily, I want to make sure I do some things differently. I'm not saying there aren't certain things about the church that should be revered, but if it comes down to a kid attending church wearing a pair of ripped shorts and a dirty sweatshirt or them feeling they can't attend because they don't want to wear what I may have viewed previously as more "proper" attire, I'll take them as they are, just to have them there, growing in faith and worshipping as part of a community of God's children. Because in the end, God is just happy we are here. Doesn't matter how we look, how loud we are, or where we are in that faith journey. He just wants us to be accepted and celebrated by others as the perfect creation he has made each of us. I ask each of you to do the same.
Suzanne Snider, Director of Youth & Family