This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3: 16 – 18 (NIV)
So all of you should live together in peace. Try to understand each other. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Be kind and humble. 1 Peter 3: 8 (ERV)
During worship on Sunday October 18, Natalie Cooper shared about the joy she feels from her service in St. John’s children’s ministry program.
It’s not just about the children’s relationships with our Triune God, not just about the children’s relationships with their teachers or pastors or the church. It’s also about the children’s relationships with one another.
Our family’s story offers a witness to these faith-centered, interpersonal relationships.
It started with Kellen in the late 1990s and then Maddie in the early 2000s, years before I entered our St. John’s sanctuary as a guest seeking refuge in 2006. Ms. Lynn would pick up her eldest grandchildren every Sunday morning and take them with her to church, which was such a blessing because I always wanted that for my children but was in a place in my life where I was not engaged with any church and believed myself unable to aid in facilitating that foundational block.
As they grew up, my now big kids went to Sunday school. When they were old enough they went to youth. Maddie, in particular, developed relationships there with a depth far surpassed other friendly relationships in her life. Now a 21-year-old young woman, Maddie still fondly recalls and continues to delight in the sweet affinity she has for her St. John’s friends; these timeless, Christ-centered friendships overflow with depths of loving-kindness and understanding.
These are profound, meaningful relationships rooted in the foundation of our faith, threaded together by our Lord. There’s just no comparison to interpersonal relationships of this depth of truth and love, and a history in community together that reinforces it. I am so thankful that St. John’s children’s ministry provided space for these truest, forever friendships in Christ to take root and grow.
Now, as a young adult, Maddie continues in those relationships with cords that cannot be broken, and I am thankful. The experience of children’s ministry at St. John’s and the deep, personal relationships spun out of it prompted Maddie to be at youth one Sunday recently as a volunteer, younger sister Izzy in tow, as Maddie and I both see the goodness of this gift of relationship on the deepest level and want Izzy to experience and know that blessed gift as well.
It brings me joy to know that as my now adult daughter goes out into the world she continues to have these meaningful relationships founded in faith, and always has a home in her heart to which she can return should she need comfort or encouragement or otherwise, regardless of her life circumstances.
My fervent prayer is that when my children and the children of St. John’s are grown, and recall the God of their childhood, the God of their youth, that they will recall Emmanuel – God with us – right smack in the center of these loving ties among siblings in Christ. I pray that those Christ-centered friendships established and nurtured in Sunday school and youth are forever rooted in the children’s depths.
I long for these Christ-centered friendships for my children and all the children of St. John’s, as much as I long for them to know and love God. St. John’s children’s ministry met the need in our family – the longing that I had – and filled a void, providing a space for unity in Christ among friends that cannot be replicated.
Loving God, thank you for Emmanuel – God with us – the centering force of love and truth in our lives and in our relationships. Help us to nurture one another in faith, wisdom and encouragement as brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us to be more like you and to actively demonstrate our love for you in the ways we love one another. In Jesus’ name … Amen.