31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 16, 2022
2 Timothy 3:14-17
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
There was a great tragedy in Bristol on Wednesday night that feels like it has fractured our hearts, fractured the community of Bristol. I want to acknowledge that and share that this message was written on Monday. I chose not to rewrite my words because they are important words to share and I believe they are words that lift up a shared calling with our fallen hero officers.
Ever feel fractured? Broken in your body? Pulled multiple ways in your head? Disconnected in your relationships?
The Church feels fractured too, and I’m not taking about the social distancing of the last few years. I’m talking about the last 1,000 years. First, with the Church of Jesus Christ splitting into the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church and then those churches splitting yet again and again into the Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Russian Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalean, Baptist, and Congregational Churches.
The worst fracture in the Church though may have come about with the least notice. Almost two hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution changed how people and families lived and worked. People shifted from working together as families on farms and began working in factories, men worked with men, women worked with women, children worked with other children, “until a series of child labor laws crafted in the mid-1800’s made that illegal.” (Engage All Generations, “Growing Together”, Michael Droege, pg 62)
Child labor laws, surprisingly, led to another problem – unsupervised children.
Robert Rakes, who is credited with pioneering the concept of Sunday school, “was dismayed by all the children running wild on Sundays and saw Sunday school as a solution.” (Engage All Generations, “Growing Together”, Michael Droege, pg 62)
Other Church leaders followed, creating their own Sunday schools to teach children about Jesus as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. In time, the public education system took over teaching kids to read, write, and do math. According to Michael Droege, even as “there was little need for Sunday Schools to teach anything beyond religious education”, Sunday schools continued to reflect “the prevailing curriculum of the day – one that practiced more of an ‘assembly line’ approach to education by dividing kids according to age-and-stage.” (Engage All Generations, “Growing Together”, Michael Droege, pg 62-63)
And so, the Church of Jesus Christ that began with all believers together, became divided into a church for each age group: Sunday School for the children, Youth groups for the teenagers, and worship, Bible and book studies, men and women’s fellowships for the adults.
I have only known Church to be this way. I grew up in a United Church of Christ congregation where children went to Children’s Church and then to Church School, and in middle school and high school, I attended youth group. From my growing up years, into college when I worked as a youth director, and throughout my first ministry calling, I believed that the pinnacle of church success was to have every classroom in the education wing full of children and a youth room bursting with teenagers.
And then, I went to a Princeton Seminary Youth Forum where Professor Kenda Creasy Dean called my thriving, ‘ministering to over a hundred kids through Confirmation classes, middle school and high school youth group’, a one-eared Mickey Mouse. A one-eared Mickey Mouse, and it was not a compliment to any of the youth leaders present.
What she meant was, we were creating a church just for teenagers, a church only barely connected to the church for adults that was happening in worship and through choirs, committee work, and outreach and service.
And she was right because when my youth graduated from “youth” church, they would leave church altogether because they were only ever part of the ear, never part of the whole body of Christ.
Hearing that term, the one-eared Mickey Mouse, was one of the first times it occurred to me that the age and stage church I had always known was perhaps not the pinnacle of success- because it was not how Jesus envisioned his community to be.
From the beginning, Christians have been called to be one body, one body with many members and still one body, spending time together, praising God together, serving our neighbors together, sharing all things in common.
The Church of Jesus Christ that we have all always known has been a fractured church, divided not only into different Christian denominations, also divided into separate churches for each age.
The Church has been changing for some time though, a change the pandemic accelerated. All of a sudden, we could not split into different churches: Children’s Ministry for the children, Confirmation for the teenagers, worship for the adults. With the pandemic, families worshiped together huddled around their tablets, computers, or phones. And as we move forward into this new world and new life, we are finding that the Church doesn’t have enough people to separate them into different age groups so we have more all ages, intergenerational activities and groups. God is leading us back to wholeness.
God is leading us back to wholeness. God is leading us back to truly being the United Church of Christ, a community where not only adults of all races, gender expressions, and physical abilities can be together, also a community where people of all ages and stages can be together.
A community, like Timothy grew up in, where children and adults learn to praise God by being present together in the worship. A community where children and adults learn about the love of God and the faith of Jesus Christ together. A community where children and adults eat and pray and serve together.
God is leading us back to being an authentic community of Christ’s love. God is leading us back to wholeness.
Feeling fractured in your life? The Church is too.
Healing is possible. Wholeness is possible. Connection is possible.
Pray for it – pray for healing and wholeness in your life. Pray for connection and community in our church.
Pray for it and reach out for it. Join FCC Bristol’s Facebook Prayer group. If you are in person for worship, come to coffee and fellowship. Come to one of the many in person events FCC is hosting this fall: Scarecrow making on October 30th, Game Night on November 1st, Harvest Brunch on November 6th.
If you are not able to come in person, for whatever reason, reach out to me with what kind of online community activity you would like to start.
Pray for healing and wholeness. Reach out for connection and community. Talk to a neighbor, friend, relative. Share some of your story, some of your feelings. Be authentic. Be yourself.
Healing is possible. Wholeness is possible. Connection is possible. Possible because it is God’s vision – for the Church and for each one of us.