I am coming to the place where one of the places I consistently find joy in my week is the weekly chapel service I lead with our After School Program children. Around 150 children, grades K-3, their teachers and para-pros, a piano player and I participate in weekly worship and singing. It is loud, a little crazy, not always predictable, and really fun. The last 2 weeks I have walked out of the sanctuary so glad for the time I get to spend telling the smallest people in the building the they are loved by God. Today, the crux of the lesson was that I cared enough about them to count out 747 small rocks into a bowl and know exactly how many were in there, but only God loves us enough to know how many hairs are in our heads –all of us all the time.
For many of these children, our church and their school may be one of the few places they hear how great they are. They are labeled “at risk” and have to be referred to our program for poor test scores and academic performance. We are working hard to increase our diversity – -the population is mostly Hispanic. Some are churched, some are not. For most, I am the first woman minister they have seen. It does not seem to phase them.
My goals for chapel are pretty low, between you and me. Teach them that this is God’s house. Tell them the story of God and Jesus. Teach some of the basic songs I learned growing up. Tell them they are loved and church is a safe place. Show them that God and Christ will always care for them. Some weeks it can be the most missional thing I do. It has been interesting for me to wrap my head around figuring out how to teach a third grader who God is – I don’t remember learning “who is God” – that fact was as basic to my being as “who are my parents”. So I talk, they listen. We sing and dance. The theology of “Jesus Loves Me” and “This Little Light” and “The Bible is a Special Book” probably teach more than I do. But we have fun. No one cares that I sing off key, or sometimes forget the motions. Together we learn about grace when the music leaders have to work together. I am indebted to our new organist who helped me find some new songs to teach, and teachers who are willing to sing the Butterfly Song for 4 weeks in a row.
Last week I passed a class in the hall on their way to snack. One of the little boys stopped me and asked about my left hand – the one that only has 2 fingers. “That’s how God made me special. Just like God made you special.” He looked at me and said “and God loves us both, right? Can we have chapel today?” That’s why today I counted out 747 rocks, one at a time. Because we had chapel and they are special and they need to know. God loves us.