Children’s Evangelism: We Follow God!
I wonder where your Palm Sunday procession led you? The first of two Palm Sunday processions I participated in was quite dignified. Bishop Mathes, who was visiting St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea, Pacific Beach, led the way.
We carried thin palm strips and small palm crosses as we walked around the library block adjacent to the church. Though the service began at 10 a.m., only a handful of surfers, early dog walkers and the bus driver who brought a visiting choir from New Jersey were there to witness our parade.
I did not see any of the church’s neighbors peeking out of their windows at us. At two points, we stopped traffic, and I did wonder what these drivers made of our procession. Some of us were singing; a few of us waved our palms high.
For a few minutes, after corralling my children and ensuring their safety across the street, I was able to enter this tradition prayerfully. I imagined being in Jerusalem, and recognizing Jesus for who he is, just as he recognizes me for who I truly am.
I worshipped with joy and sang my hosanna louder and louder. Then came the dog . Leash notwithstanding, my fearful child snapped me out of my transported worship and my brief encounter with the dog walker ushered me into a different sort of reflection: “Do they even know what we’re doing?”
I thought about religious illiteracy in our community, and wondered what, if anything, our repetition of this historic biblical event means to people who are unchurched. I confess that I did not, in that moment, think to share with the dog walker my joy in life in the One whom we remember entering Jerusalem one final time to die the death that saves our souls. Nor did I think to explain that it was Palm Sunday. I did not even say, “Easter services next Sunday are at 10 a.m. Please join us.”
As a member of the diocesan evangelism committee, and as one who has taken and reaffirmed time and again baptismal vows to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, 305), and has been commissioned to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, and proclaim his resurrection” (BCP, 308), my witness Palm Sunday morning paled in comparison with that of three young boys later Sunday afternoon.
Preparations for Palm Sunday procession number two began with the demolition of an old wooden high chair, beyond repair. My boys had invited a church friend home for a playdate and after a few calm minutes with Legos it was time for woodshop.
After some good hearty whacking and hammering, the former arms and legs of the high chair were in at least ten pieces, discernibly perfect for sword, or cross, creation. A little twine, a little help, and we had three boys with three swords/crosses. Spontaneously, they decided to process down the block, chanting, “We follow God! God is great!” At first there was some giggling among them, and then it took on a more serious, though still joyful, tone. The boys organized their procession and became evangelistic in their agenda: “Let’s make sure the neighbors hear us so they will come follow God too…I’ll go first…over here, they need to hear.”
A few minutes later, my daughter and I were recruited to join them around the whole block. Once shoes were on, I reluctantly followed them into what I only imagined would be an embarrassing parade of disturbing the peace.
The first time, “Not so loud,” came out of my mouth, I could feel the conviction, and questioning, of the Holy Spirit: “Of all things, you are quieting this?”
Here a few dear children were getting out in the neighborhood and were very seriously inviting everyone to know how great God is, the very work I am yearning for grownups to do, and I was shushing them. I knew I was in the wrong, but when they asked, “Can we go to the door and invite them to follow God with us?” I said, “No.”
Well, of course you said no, you might be thinking. I mean, what of their safety? Not to mention the neighbor’s perceptions; we’re not Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, after all.
And what if people think you put your children up to this? Using them, or worse still, brainwashing them?
But these children, of their own minds, genuinely think God is great. They are proud to follow God and they like following God; they feel safe and loved, brave and purposeful, sure of who they are and Whose they are. And these children could not understand why I wouldn’t want them to share how great God is with absolutely everyone. Inviting others to follow God naturally springs forth from their joy in following God. So, of course, when I said, “No,” they said, “Yhy not?” My semi-potty-trained daughter at that very moment said, “Peepee,” and I was saved.
We rushed home as I continuously deflected the question repeating “Hurry along, we need to get home.”
Just shy of our house, it was clear that the moment of urgency had passed for my daughter, and a neighbor stood outside, washing his car. The boys shouted toward him, “God is GREAT! We follow God!” and still I simply smiled and hurried them inside.
Relieved to be home, instantly I was ashamed.
These children were not being silly; they were being evangelists. And I was so preoccupied with what I thought others might think that I prevented the children from proclaiming and inviting, from living out their baptismal vows.
We are one as the body of Christ: young and old, loud and quiet, unashamed and a little timid. The little toes seem very eager to proclaim and invite, to share this life-giving faith.
Let us not overuse the brain or our big heavy hands to squash the movement of little toes.
And we might need to move our legs to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples, all neighbors. Sorrowful for my foolishness on Palm Sunday, and inspired by young children, I used my fingers, little nominal parts of the body, and texted a friend I have long hoped to share faith with and invited her to our Easter Vigil on the beach.
It was a small step toward living out those baptismal vows.
I hope you are inspired to take one small step toward sharing your faith, too. The children invite you to their next procession should you wish to boldly proclaim with them, “God is GREAT! We follow God!”