by Cara Kalf
When I was in my early 20s, I sometimes wished children didn’t have to come to church. I recognized that this was a distinctly uncharitable and unchristian attitude, but I found them distracting. They’re just so noisy and fidgety! And while I never would have been hostile to a family with children if one had shown up on, say, Maundy Thursday—the opening of the Triduum service, the most holy three nights of the church year and my absolute favorite service of the year, a quiet and solemn night … well, I would have at least thought, isn’t it past their bedtime?
My daughter Linnea is now almost 2 ½ years old, and she loves church. It is the highlight of her week. I know that is because of the experience that is carefully created there—the people who love her, the opportunity to stand close to the altar during the Communion, the Soft Space where she can read and play when she needs to. And, yes, getting to wear her fancy black shoes.
Listening to Kate’s Palm Sunday sermon about the physicality of the Triduum service, I was filled with a desire to bring Linnea and have her take part in the foot-washing. She has read the Bible story about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. It would be something she could understand, even as a small child, and have a real part of, even as a small child. It was also a huge risk.
The last thing I wanted was to take away from the solemn and beautiful experience of the service for others. But when I told Linnea I would be going to church for an extra service, she said, “Nea church too?!” She started talking about it first thing Thursday morning.
But even a rookie like me recognizes that no amount of preparatory excitement promises good behavior at the event.
And we had just settled in from the opening hymn when 1-month-old Anneke started fussing, just as Linnea brought me a book from the shelf to read. Things were going to get ugly, quickly.
That was when Karen Schragle appeared and quietly sat down on the floor in front of the bookcase. Linnea went to her and sat in her lap, listened to story after story, through the readings and the sermon. I was able to quiet Anneke. Disaster temporarily averted.
Then came the moment I had been waiting for. As people lined up in the aisle, Linnea said, “Nea too?” She didn’t know it was the foot washing, didn’t know this was the reason I had brought her—she just knew everyone was going up, so she probably should, too.
At this point I began looking around for one of the girls’ many “aunties,” of which they are blessed with many at the church. I realized with happiness that there were many families present whom I had known since arriving at the church that I was sure would hold Anneke if asked. As all of the aunties were in line to have their own feet washed, I passed her to “Uncle” Steve Burns as we came up the aisle. He took her without question and with a smile, as though this had been our plan all along.
“Nea shoes off too?” We took off her shoes. (“Socks too,” she instructed, in case I had missed that. She’s a first-born.)
The line moves quite slowly, of course, and she did get fidgety. But holding her up to watch the proceedings in the front kept her returning to the focus of the evening.
“Are they washing their friends’ feet?” I would whisper.
“Yeah,” she would reply in wonder.
“Just like Jesus?”
When we finally reached the front of the line, Connie Parrish sat down in the chair and I knelt before her, Linnea in my lap. The acolyte passed the pitcher of water. I narrated quietly as we proceeded.
“First we pour the water.” Then I held Linnea’s hands and together, we washed Connie’s feet.
“Are we washing Ms. Connie’s feet, just like Jesus?” I asked her.
When we finished and dried Connie’s feet, I turned and knelt beside the chair, and again pulled Linnea onto my lap.
“The water will be a little bit cold,” I warned her. I could just imagine her shrieking and fussing. But as “Mr. Steve” poured the water over her little toes, she was as solemn as I’ve ever seen her. It was a beautiful moment.
Of course, by the time communion came, it was way past bedtime, and keeping her calm and quiet was growing increasingly difficult. She ended up needing to leave the altar because she was fussing. We returned to the Soft Space, but no sooner had we arrived, then she turned around and charged right back up the center aisle, black shoes CLOMP CLOMPING, arm up, pointing and saying, “Angel!”
When we got to the front, I realized she was saying, “Andrew!” As in, “There’s Reverend Andrew! That’s where I should be!”
I was torn at this point between feeling horribly guilty and embarrassed by her distracting behavior and being charmed that she had not wanted to miss the consecration.
After I received Communion, I gathered the girls up quickly to ensure that the solemn stripping of the altar at the end would be silent as it should be.
As we regrouped on the back stairs, Karen appeared to help us to our car. She said something like, “It’s great that you could come out for the service—I guess you knew you had back-up.” At Redeemer, we have always had back-up, when we knew we needed it and when we didn’t even know.
As I drove home, I thought wryly, I should write an apology to everyone who was at the service. So this is my note of apology—but also deep thanks. For a community that makes it possible to take part through its welcoming and caring, never judging and always helping. When Linnea was baptized you promised to “do all in your power to support this person in her life in Christ”… and you have.