On Sticky Faith
Written by Amy Veatch
I’ve been working on this essay for months, ask Marietta Wynands or any of the other Youth Design Team members, Elizabeth Battle, Lauren Cochran, or Drew Rick-Miller. At each one of our meetings, and in occasional in-between emails, Marietta asks me if I’ve finished it or not. I reply that I’ve almost got it. She is patient and faithful in her reply and encouragement. After six starts and many months, this one is it, yes, this is it! What has kept me from getting it finished is sort of a mystery to me. I would faithfully start and, then yuck, it wasn’t what I wanted to say, or I couldn’t finish it. My reasons for failure, I think, involve the importance of the topic, how many things I have to say about it, and how hard it is to evaluate. What is the topic of this essay that Marietta has so faithfully waited read? The topic is faith; how we get it, how do we keep it going, and what we do to instill it in our children. The Youth Design Team has been studying how to support faith development and continuity for the youth of our church. We’ve looked at studies, read books, told our own stories, asked others to tell their stories, talked with young children, school aged children, and teenagers, and their parents. We meet most months to look at what we are doing well at WRPC, and what we want to be doing better. We make plans and go over strategies for building faith in our kids, with the hope that it has an impact.
All my life here at WRPC, I’ve been immersed in youth ministry. I’ve been a youth group advisor, a youth Sunday school teacher, a Youth Committee member, a youth parent, and at one time, the staff member responsible for youth ministry at WRPC. After leaving that job, I took a full time job at First Presbyterian as Director of Youth and College Ministry. I’ve been a member, and Moderator, of the presbytery Youth Committee, as well as spending, at least, one week every summer between 1999 and 2017 as a Small Group Leader at Montreat Youth Conference. I was an advisor to PCM for ten years and have lead many groups of young people on mission trips and to conferences, delving into conversations about faith with them. This is all to say that I think about, talk about, and pray about faith development in young people a lot. Surrounding myself with other people that think about, talk about, and pray about that has given me great opportunity to see God’s work in and among other people. Still, it’s hard to say exactly what we can do as a church, or as individuals to grow, to develop, and especially, to ensure enduring faith in God for others, young or old. So, that said, I am going relate what I’ve experienced as a person who claims to have faith. My experience was being raised by people who were faithful, who talked about what it meant to them to be faithful, and who demonstrated changes in their behavior brought about by their understanding of God’s call and care.
My parents took me to church, mostly that meant First Presbyterian in Tulsa, OK, where my dad’s parents and grandparents attended. When we lived in other places, we went to other churches. All those churches shaped my parents’ faith, which in turn, shaped my faith. As I now understand, my parents’ faith was shaped by their parents’ faith and practices, too. Though I do remember friends from other churches my parent’s attended, my first memories of church start at First Pres. Tulsa in Sunday school. After church, my family would eat lunch with my grandparents, and my aunt and her family, and talk about church. What was heard, what was learned, and what we thought about all of that. Kids were included in the discussion, really included. Yes, sometimes it was boring, and I didn’t always want to tell what I learned in Sunday school or discuss the sermon, but that was the price of lunch.
My parents took me to church, fertilizing connections and relationships with the people at church. I was expected, as were my older sister and younger brother, to participate in the life of the church and the activities of the community. As well as the discussions of faith we had as a family, I was exposed to those conversations with the larger church family, adults and children alike. My parents lead the way by example, participating in our community of faith, they engaged, they connected, and they reached out to others. They shared their gifts, joys and burdens, exploring their faith with people of faith at church. I was expected to do the same, to be myself and share my gifts with others. Opportunities for that were everywhere, from choir, to offering my time and money, to serving food, to helping in the nursery and with Bible School, to participating in youth group and going on mission trips, to driving Meals on Wheels, and being a camp counselor. In each exposure, I learned more about what I believed and where I could see God at work.
I believe that the examples and the expectations my parents provided are the keys to my faith, and my belief in God and God’s call to us. It hasn’t been, and isn’t always easy to follow the examples or live up to the expectations, but that is the point, actually. I fall and I fail, I worry and I disappoint, and I have faith that God is there to pull me through, because I’ve seen it happen in church. I’ve seen the example of faith carry others through life, and I can rest in that, when I wrestle with my own failures and faults, disappointments and hurdles, tragedies and traumas. So, I found a church and I joined it, using my parents’ example. I raised my children, bringing them to this community of faithful people, hoping to give them the example my parents gave me, hoping this community will give them the example my home church gave me. We talked together, my kids and me, about the Sunday school lessons, the sermons, the songs, and the practices which this community of faithful people use to demonstrate God’s care and call. It is my hope that my children will live faithful lives and celebrate everyday life and joys of achievement with God and the people of their community of faith, the way I have been able to do. When they struggle with failures and faults, tragedies and traumas, disappointments and disagreements, they will fall on their faith and other people of faith will encircle them with love and prayer the way I have been encircled in this place, West Raleigh Presbyterian Church. I have faith that God has provided that for them, and that is what I hope for all our children, a place of faith, a place of joy, a place of solace on their journey. And I challenge us to continue to make this a place like that for our children, and for each other.