Called to go into all the World and Make Disciples.
By Herman R. Yoos, III, Bishop of the South Carolina Synod
Her name was Mrs. Agnes. She was my third grade Sunday school teacher and as an 8 year old boy, she seemed to be at least 100 year old but was probably in her mid 70’s. In spite of the age difference, she loved each of her students and made us feel important to her and to God. Each Sunday morning she would begin by playing the piano and asking us to name some of our favorite hymns. “Jesus Loves Me”, Beautiful Saviour”, “This Little Light of Mine”, were frequent requests, but my favorite was “This is My Father’s World”. Whenever it was my turn to pick the hymn, that was my request and it still is one of my favorites today.
Who nurtured your faith in Jesus when you were a child? Who helped you feel important? Who invested their time and energy to open you up to the reality of God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ?
There is no doubt that lifelong faith formation is among the most important reasons that churches exist. It is part of our Baptismal DNA and calls us to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing and teaching others the good news of Jesus Christ.
I frequently hear from congregations a familiar lament, “We don’t have children anymore? Ours have grown up and moved into different communities.” What I love to ask in return is “what about the children in your neighborhood, and what are you doing to connect with them in a way that blesses and impact their lives?”
One church in our synod, Good Shepherd in Walterboro has a “Wonderful Wednesday” afternoon from fall to spring. They started by visiting their neighbors and leaving flyers on the homes with an invitation for crafts, a bible story, music and a meal each Wednesday. Another church, Mt. Hermon in West Columbia, visited the schools in their community and saw a need for an after school program to help with homework for students. They have homework helpers who meet and work with each student. This congregation also provides snacks and lets each child know they are important and loved by God.
This past summer, for the second year ,the South Carolina Synod partnered with Trinity and St. Nicholas Lutheran Church in Fairfax and Simpson United Methodist in Allendale to host a two week summer arts, music and drama camp for children ages 3-8 based on Dr. Rich Melheim’s model. You can look up Rich Learning at http://www.richlearning.com/ to see more about the creative energy he uses to teach children. Later this fall we will have a video that helps share the impact this summer camp has on these young lives in Allendale. Next summer our plans are to expand these efforts to include a similar two week camp in Williamsburg County, and the hosting of a seven week summer camp in Allendale. The total cost will be around $90,000 and we welcome any gift that is sent to the South Carolina Synod marked for this purpose.
When Jesus said in Mark 10: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such as these belongs to the Kingdom of God,” surely he meant something more than “teach only those children who show up at Sunday school one hour a week.” Don’t these verses also encourage us to find many different opportunities to engage the lives of children who might never attend your church on a Sunday morning?
Many of you know that I spend one hour a week reading books for 30 minutes at a time with two first graders at a nearby elementary school. It is a great joy to see how with a little encouragement and a caring relationship, these children make significant progress in their reading. Can you imagine the impact we Lutherans in South Carolina could have if every congregation had some kind of partnership with an elementary school? Can you imagine the encouragement and blessings we could be for children who don’t have parents who read to them each night before they go to bed?
As we begin a new fall season I thank God for all the Mrs. Agnes’s in my life and in yours who helped each of us know that we were beloved children of God. I am also grateful for the wonderful creative teaching and learning opportunities that are a part of our Lutheran identity, including Sunday school, confirmation, summer outdoor camp experiences and community partnerships with schools. If you are not involved in some kind of bible study or adult learning experience, I encourage you to begin attending one this fall. Following Jesus in our troubled world today always includes an invitation to lifelong learning. Together we are Christs salt and light, bringing out the God flavors and God colors of the world around us.