by Janie Stevens
Several years ago I was invited to work on a project with Ruth Ann Collins, Staff Officer for Lifelong Christian Formation and Bishop George Packard, Suffragan Bishop to the Chaplains and several other folks. Our task was to write a program for those deployed and their families that would include a liturgy for leave-taking and one for returning, a Bible study that both the deployed and the at home family members would participate in and a book program for both the deployed and children at home. These activities would give them something to talk about besides problems when they had their phone calls and to stay connected with each other.
We journeyed to Ft. Hood to visit with some families about things they wished the church would do for them. One young officer was leaving his children at the preschool at the church where we were and I asked him if he had a minute for a question. He had just returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq and was anticipating another tour there or in Afghanistan in the near future. I asked him what he wished the church would do for him. “The church needs to teach young people how to pray before their tank gets shot,” he said. “It’s too late then to learn how to pray.”
The resource referred to here, Across the Miles, was published jointly by the Office of Lifelong Christian Formation and the Office of Federal Ministries and is an example of how a church-wide office for Christian Formation can bring the grassroots level together to create a needed resource that otherwise might not come to fruition.
Several years later, I was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive cancer. Depression set in and I found myself in the darkest place I had ever been. I felt that God was nowhere near. One day I remembered what this young officer had said. I told my priest who was visiting me that day that I felt that my tank had been shot. She asked me more of the story and we determined that in fact I did know how to pray, that I did know that God was always there and that I should get busy doing what I certainly knew how to do. My own prayers and the prayers of many people, known and unknown, were answered. Today I am cancer free and my prayer life has taken on a deeper and more meaningful life. By the way, the next morning after my friend’s visit, a very small army tank was found on our porch. This outward and visible symbol of grace has a prime spot on our kitchen island. Today it is sitting on a tray filled with Easter grass, Easter eggs and our Easter tree.
We are called in the church to be advocates for children – to advocate for their rightful place in the church, to help them find their ministry and to honor them. We are called to invite, inspire and watch the transformation of lives that occur when people feel God’s love and our Christian love present. People yearn for acceptance, love and a feeling of wholeness. This transforming love is the Gospel message we hear every Sunday, it is what we are called to do in our Baptismal Covenant promises – to pray, to learn, to repent, to love, to teach, to respect. These are lifelong promises.
Janie Stevens is a member of the Standing Committee for Lifelong Formation and Education. Previously she served 25 years in 2 small/midsize congregations and as the Missioner for Christian Formation for the Diocese of Texas for 10 years. She has also served on provincial, national and international Christian Formation boards and committees.