Holy Ground

Rachel Gerber is denominational minister of Faith Formation for Mennonite Church USA. Rachel will complete her service with the denomination on July 31.

“Get in the car!  It’s time to go!”

Maybe your Sunday morning routine is a calm and peaceful one full of rainbows and unicorns, but for us, with three young boys in our family, it is generally more like herding cats than unicorns to get everyone out the door. And on time.

This past Sunday was pouring rain. We received close to 5 inches overnight and there wasn’t any hint that it was going to let up soon. My husband Shawn pulled up to the front door of the church so the rest of us wouldn’t have a completely drenched entry. The van sliding door opened. Boy number one popped out and ran in. Boy number two popped out and ran in. Boy number three popped out … and had no shoes on.

Wow. I guess “Get in the car, it’s time to go!” was taken in the most literal sense.

At least he listens. (Note to self: Next time, add additional clause — Get your shoes on! Get in the car! It’s time to go! Hopefully he won’t ever emerge naked with only shoes on.)

As I balanced this shoeless 40-pound wonder along with my purse and umbrella, in high heels, dodging rain puddles, then up a set of steep concrete stairs, I found myself laughing at all of it.

We entered church to the sound of the opening hymn, and in an instant I realized that this was not a parenting fail, but a completely appropriate gesture. For this is holy ground.

In Exodus 3, Moses approached a bush that was apparently on fire.

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:4-6).

As we found our seats, and I looked around at the people in that sanctuary and considered the various ways that faith formation is being tended to, I found myself flooded with gratitude. My thoughts turned to the broader church and the various relationships I have had been graced with during my tenure working for the denomination. There is so much to give thanks for.

As I prepare to depart from my role as denominational minister of Faith Formation for Mennonite Church USA, in order to attend to my children more fully during this busy season of life, I want my last word to be one of gratitude to you and to the work that you are doing.

To the Sunday school teachers, children and youth sponsors, and pastors who give so much time and energy in preparing lessons, going on retreats, creating space for these young ones to grow and develop — thank you. Your investment in this work and in these relationships is so vital to the health and faith development of our children. You are nurturing the soil and planting seeds that will grow in God’s time, not ours. We tend to want to see instant results — to empirically measure our work and effort. We do this by counting the number of baptisms, numbers in youth group or on the membership roster, etc., but in reality, we don’t ever really know the impact of what we do. I pray that you will not lose heart. I pray that you will be reminded of the holy work you are doing in helping to shape the container of faith that these young ones will carry. For it is your presence, your smile, your attention and the warmth of your love that they will remember, probably more than any number of sermons or lessons they heard. As a parent, I thank you for being a partner with me in teaching the Biblical story and how faith impacts how we live out our lives. I can’t do this shaping alone, and your influence in my child’s life, reinforcing the same messages, is an incredible partnership that I am forever grateful for.

You are doing holy work.

You probably don’t get thanked enough for the work you do and for what you offer. But I want my last word to be to you.

Thank you. Thank you.

As my youngest emerged from the rainstorm, cognizant of his folly, he wondered if it was okay to not have on shoes on.

“Oh baby, just like we take off our shoes in our home, this is God’s house. I’ll take mine off too.”

This is holy ground, because through your presence, relationships, love, resilience, commitment and teaching, we encounter God.

I am so grateful for you.