This week Bridgette (our parish administrator) has been introducing me to our parish data base: entering new member data, updating emails, etc. It was all pretty standard fare until Bridgette showed me our Sunday school information. According to our data base, there are almost 70 kids under the age of 18 associated with St. Margaret's. I was astounded. And while there are some vagaries in the total number of children participating regularly (kids away at school, kids in shared family situations, and so on), that number was twice as big as I expected.
According to Episcopal News Service, "[in 2009] more than half (52.4 percent) of all Episcopal congregations had an average attendance of 70 or fewer persons." That means that St. Margaret's has as many children as half the Episcopal churches in the country have members. It is hard to imagine! What would it be like if all of those "associated" kids were active in the life of our church? What would it mean to St. Margaret's if we incorporated an entire "congregation" of children into our ministry? What would it mean for the Episcopal Church if we "raised-up" 70 confident disciples with St. Margaret's DNA, and sent them to the church, nation-wide?
In a world where the church is becoming increasingly irrelevant, the challenge of effective children's ministry looms large. Yet we are blessed more than we can imagine: We have children! And those children give us another amazing opportunity to make a difference in the church and in the world. By sending forth Christians that are known by their love and not by their hate, by making disciples who practice radical hospitality and pursue merciful justice, St. Margaret's can affirm meaningful faith in lives that are getting ever busier and more secular. If we can make church less of a "have to" prospect and more of a "want to" prospect for our youth (and their parents) we can make a world of difference. I'm not exactly sure how to accomplish it, but I'm sure it has something to do with making space, empowerment, leadership development and deepened spiritual practice.
Seventy is a pretty big number; it's a pretty powerful number in the biblical story as well. It will take all our gifts to make the most of this opportunity. It will take energy and commitment and lots of patience. Still, I am excited by the prospect and I hope that you, like me, are looking forward to journey.