The future of religion depends on nurturing belief and faith in children

The author is a contributor to The Washington Post's local faith leader network.

This weekend all across this country and across denominations many churches will pause to pay tribute to children. Although children make up a small percentage of present church membership they represent 100 percent of  future membership. Some churches will roll out the younger members of the clergy and give them an opportunity to deliver a message directed at children, which without a doubt will encourage them to “honor their mother and father, so that their days will be long upon the earth.” And if the idea of longevity doesn’t appeal to them then the reminder that “to spare the rod is to spoil the child” might.

The church where I serve will take an extra step by allowing the children to perform most of the worship duties and obligations normally reserved for adult members and by giving children an opportunity to deliver their own sermonettes. Over the years, this has become a cherished honor for many children and their parents and a cherished moment for our entire church.

As adult believers we have the responsibility of nurturing, equipping and raising up new believers. This is vital for our faith tradition and necessary for public life. Our society with all of its present challenges and complexities must invest in the religious, spiritual and moral development of our children. As a minister to children and youth I have tried my best to create a new generation of young public theologians willing to live their faith publicly and privately, not just on Sunday mornings in the comfortable confines of our marvelous sanctuary.

Recently, however, I have found myself with the tables turned as I have been blessed to meet a young child who has taught me a thing or two. Former University of Chicago Professor Danielle Allen gets it right when she states in her book, “Talking to Strangers” that there is a certain amount of distrust and suspicion of others that has created a certain type of anxiety in our society particularly along racial lines.”

One day while sitting in a restaurant, I witnessed the little angel get up from the seat where she was dining and go over to a window, blow on the window to produce “fog” and turn it into a place where she could draw. And that she did. She simply drew a heart, which caused the two men seated on the other side who did not look like her to smile. I couldn’t help but do the same. This would have surprised me if I had not witnessed the same angel masquerading as a child on a metro train handing out flowers she had picked (please don’t ask me where) to persons on the train (some who looked like her and some who do not, but all who needed to smile).

Her compassion runs even deeper oftentimes when a train goes out of service, persons who fall asleep or are unable to understand the announcements as given in English remain behind on the train, the train that she calls the “sleepy train.” I watched as the child’s eyebrows began to arch and her  five-year-old heart began to grow as she knocked on the window trying to get the passenger to leave the train before they were taken to who knows where (her thoughts perhaps). I was made to feel embarrassed for not doing the same.

These actions caused me to think of the Prophet Isaiah’s words, “And a  little child shall lead them.” I think it was Bruce Carroll who said, “I would rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.” We continue to deal with issues of race today, but that should not get in the way of our genuine respect and dignity for our fellow citizens. This is the message being preached around Washington, D.C. by one of God’s little sermons. A little girl now  six years old who sees everyone as one of God’s creation. I taught her how to draw a star, and she taught me how to smile. Someone taught her how to draw a heart. and she is teaching others how to love.  A mother and father are allowing their child to dream of a different world, and now there is hope for a better one.

Rev. Thomas Bowen is a minister at Shiloh Baptist Church of Washington.

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