Nowhere is this time of year more hectic, unpredictable and/or madness-inducing than in the one place where it ought to inspire peace and comfort — church. I’m speaking specifically of youth ministry, where the irresistable force of vacation-, gift-, weather- and ADD-induced excitement meets the immovable object of pageant preparation.
Families never before seen in the congregation suddenly start attending service — at least, they walk in long enough to drop off their progeny for pageant practice before turning around and heading across the street for a stress- and kid-free cup of coffee. Politics also makes the scene as church personnel attempt to weigh the merits of giving a role to a good singer vs. giving it to a good listener, and to consider the none-too-objective input of fame-obsessed parents and grandparents dropping names and blame in equal parts. Anyone who ventures into this atmosphere with the unreasonable expectation of conducting business as usual, is in for disappointment.
Business as usual for the youth ministry at our church means children’s chapel — a short service in the meeting hall while “big church” goes on upstairs. The service consists of some easy-to-remember prayers, a reading, an age-appropriate sermon, an offering and a whole lot of fidgeting. It’s always unpredictable, but that factor is tripled at this time of year.
This morning we planned to have chapel, a quick pageant practice and possibly a seasonal snack and DVD-viewing until it was time to rejoin parents in the big church. The chapel service was led by one of our two directors of Christian education — our rector’s wife. She’s a teacher by trade, exhibits just the right balance of warmth and sternness, and normally has no problem keeping the children’s chapel service on pace and on topic. I was most impressed with her the day she was able to keep a straight face and get back to the topic after she asked, “What do you have to do in order to get into Heaven” and one of the littlest kids answered, “Die…”
This morning, however, one pre-schooler wasn’t willing to relinquish control. She waved her hand madly in the air and tried to stand up and interject while the rector’s wife talked of angels, God and Jesus, then finally asked, “Did you want to say something?”
The little girl stood up and announced to everyone, “God wants us to get old and die and come to His house, so we can meet Jack Frost!”
Unabashed, the rector’s wife said, “Mm-hmm, well, he wants us to come to Heaven — that’s His house — when we die, but I think he wants us to meet Jesus.”
“Jack Frost makes designs on the windows, but we never see him do it!”
“Sure, sometimes there are nice designs on the outside of our windows. There aren’t any today, but that’s okay, because right now we’re talking about Jesus.”
Whereupon an older boy from the back of the room shouted, “Jack Frost isn’t real!”
Never one to step on a child’s secular beliefs, the rector’s wife added, “He’s not…well, some people don’t believe…” and wasn’t able to finish, because the little girl had more testifying to do.
“Mommy said he’s outside our windows at night!”
“When I die, I want to go to God’s house and meet Jack Frost, ’cause I haven’t met him in a long time.”
“Well, when you get to Heaven, you’ll meet Jesus. I don’t know about…”
“But I want Jack Frost!”
“Okay, who hasn’t taken up the offering lately?” It was a valiant effort to get back to business as usual, but the rest of the kids were already checked out. All I could hear was a rising murmur of “Jack Frost!” and barely suppressed giggles. They phoned in their performances for the pageant rehearsal and we never really got their attention back until it was time to watch the Gospel according to Charlie Brown.