Upon hearing that my wife and I were leaving our non-denominational congregation in order to begin a house church, the question most often posed from friends, family and fellow partakers of post-service coffee and donuts was, "What about Hannah?" Our three year old would no longer have her hour and a half of kids’ church. To listen to the tone of anxiety in the voices of the inquisitive, one would think the child’s faith was at a crisis point.
Not that Liz and I weren’t apprehensive. I suppose that question is what kept us at our beloved fellowship long after we should have moved on. We knew we would be denying our daughter a cherished American church experience, not to mention we’d be taking her from friends while stifling her bright future as a star in Christmas and Easter pageants. But the question posed seemed insulting. One might as well have asked, "Without Sunday school, how will your daughter ever know about the love of Jesus Christ? Who will teach her about sin, the cross, the resurrection and redemption?" Gee, I never thought of that. Though I heard somewhere in the Bible that God places in the hands of fathers the responsibility of instructing children in godliness. Funny thing is, Strong’s Concordance has no reference number for Veggietales.
Still, there was the flood of guilt for pulling our daughter away from her kids’ church brethren. In time however, we found the waters fairly simple to navigate. First of all, though I haven’t earned an Early Childhood Education certificate and have not immersed myself in all things Dobson, I think 3 year olds are resilient. They also don’t hold grudges for more than five minutes. Besides, they make new friends as often as evangelicals in Southern California change churches. Which leads to the second factor that assuaged our guilt: Many of Hannah’s friends had already left her. After 10 years of existence, the congregation consisted of 50 adults, yet it was reported during a Sunday morning service that the church database contains over 2,000 names. More than 2,000 adults had passed through the doors in 10 years! Had we stayed much longer, my daughter would have learned a valuable lesson in traditional SoCal church life — most people eventually move on, making lasting Christian friendships as rare as quality Christian cinema. Finally, the concern for our 3 year old’s immediate discomfort was overshadowed by the prospect of having a future 16 year old ask us to tell her of the wondrous works God had done through the years in our church. “Well, the bulletin covers have evolved quite nicely.”
Actually, it was a wonderful church family. Other than the churches I have planted personally, it was the only spiritual family I knew. My pastor is one of my best friends. They are great people, there were lots of laughs and some tears, but no outreach. My wife and I were one of only two couples under the age of 30. The weekly reflection during the drive home from church was, “There must be something more.”
After a year of prayer, we moved on to begin a house church with some friends. Though we are not blessed with bulletins or banners, neither are we burdened with formalities and time restraints. We gather weekly with friends around dinner, the Scriptures, communion, music (sometimes) and prayer. Often our meetings linger three or four hours. People are becoming followers of Jesus — some for the first time.
Going back to Christmas and Easter pageants, there are none. Instead, this Christmas our house church “adopted” a poor family in East Anaheim. We bought a Christmas tree, decorations, presents, clothing and food for this single mother and her five children. Our daughter helped in delivering the gifts and setting up the tree. In the one bedroom apartment with no living room furniture, she laughed, played and rolled around on the floor with children from the barrio. There were no flash bulbs or standing ovations to accompany this moment.
On Thanksgiving, the house church decided to spend the morning in downtown Santa Ana feeding some of the homeless. Hannah came along. She handed out cold sodas to the filthy and forgotten. On a sun-drenched Orange County morning, God painted a portrait and placed it in the gallery of my soul: the scene of an old man sitting on a bench and extending his dirty, callused hand to receive a cold drink from the soft hand of a child. In the exchange, each hand that the Creator had formed — one weathered, the other without blemish — had embraced. To this day, I don’t know which was the hand of Jesus. Later, some from our house church visited my home for a meal with our family — grandparents, in-laws et al. The requisite turkey, yams and pie with ice cream were served. The following day, I asked our little girl to share what she enjoyed most about Thanksgiving. "Handing out the drinks," she said with a smile.
"What about Hannah," they ask? I think she’ll be just fine, but maybe I’m no authority. They might want to ask a certain family in East Anaheim, or they can speak with a few men, women and children on the streets of downtown Santa Ana.
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