By Fred Leist, Lead Pastor
This past week I read a wonderful article in The Christian Century, written by M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary. Craig told the story of gathering recently with family and friends in celebration of his mother’s 90th birthday. They gathered at a restaurant called “The Abbey.” He thought that was probably appropriate since his mother had spent her entire adult life as a “church lady.”
His mother had suffered a stroke and dementia would frequently overwhelm her. Craig said that his mother, a genteel southern woman, who was once a pastor’s wife and who always had exactly the right and gracious response, struggled as she attempted to be the hostess for her own birthday party.
At one point she stood behind her walker and offered, what appeared to be a well-rehearsed one-minute speech. It pained him to hear her offer, what he called some “bad theology” that presumed we serve an unyielding God who always keeps a record of “when we say we will pray for someone, but do not.” She finished her speech with the words, “We’re supposed to do what we say we’ll do.”
Craig said that it was painful because it did not reflect the spirit in which she had raised her two sons in the faith. She had always taught them that their faith in a God of grace was “as true as the sky above us.” As their first theology teacher, she always spoke of a merciful Savior who forgets our sins. That was then. Now, she clearly struggled to articulate the faith in which she raised her sons.
Reflecting on that experience, Craig said he remembers how his mother always “held the faith” for them as children. She presented them for baptism, took them to worship and Sunday School, taught and modeled faith in God through her own love and devotion. Craig said that his mother had held the faith for them during times when they were unable to fully do so themselves. Now, he imagines that it is his time to hold the faith and embrace the grace of God for her. He says that’s the way a family of faith works, and that’s why we have the church.
I think he is absolutely right. When parents and congregations affirm the vows at infant baptism, we are holding the faith for those children. When we offer Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Christian camping, spiritual formation events and Confirmation Classes…it’s all our way of holding the faith for them, even as they are learning to hold the faith for themselves. It’s what we do and who we are.
With that in mind, I think of our upcoming Confirmation Sunday this weekend. Fourteen fine young people will make their own profession of faith in Jesus and affirm their vows of membership into the Church. We have loved them, prayed for them, invested in them and trusted God’s promises for them. Now, THE story of God’s love and grace will become THEIR story of faith in Christ. Theology (thinking and reflecting about the reality and nature of God) will become Biography (their own experience of holding the faith that holds them). It will be a great celebration. I couldn’t be any prouder of these young people. And I hope you will be here to support them.
The great faith belongs to the church, and we’re always holding it for someone.