In order to be ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I had to answer “Yes” to Bishop Schnase when he asked, “Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?” Needless to say, I answered in the affirmative.
(There were a few other things I had to do, as well, but for now let’s focus on this one.)
I think the intention of the historic question is to ask about the children “in every place you are appointed, wherever that might be.” But I tend to take it further than that, and just let it mean exactly what it says - the children “in every place.”
The children in one place are just as important as the children in another.
As I write this, a friend is preparing to come home from China with a new son. A team from Campbell is returning from a heart-wrenching visit to an orphanage in Haiti. Schools for poor children in Pakistan are being named “Malala Schools” after a fifteen year old hero. And in Springfield, Missouri my family has just received a newborn infant in order to provide foster care for a time.
Matthew 18 includes one of my favorite Jesus quotes: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Could it be any clearer? Welcoming a child is welcoming Christ. (The Greek word translated “welcome” in the NRSV means “to take by the hand” or “to take hold of” or “to receive.”)
Children are more than ornaments to the congregation’s life, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do we welcome them as if we were welcoming Christ? Do we take them by the hand and value them for who they are or do we try to mold them into smaller versions of ourselves?
My prayer, this week and always, is that the church embraces God’s children of all ages, in every place.
Every. Means. Every.