A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Max Knows

Two-and-a-half year old Max recently began attending our parish. He comes nearly every week with his grandmother, a very active member of the congregation who is committed to helping Max understand that Jesus loves him and that the church is a friendly, welcoming place (I had baptized Max when he was an infant). Max attends our preschool class, held during the second half of the Liturgy of the Word (the young ones leave after the gospel and return just before the Peace). For the remainder of the service, he sits agreeably with his grandmother, sometimes "reading" the prayer book or hymnal, occasionally imitating the presider’s gestures during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Max’s grandmother often serves as a chalice bearer in our liturgy, which means she comes forward just before communion is distributed to give the wine to worshippers at the chancel rail. She asked if Max could accompany her into the chancel the first time he visited, since she couldn’t leave him alone in the pew. I was happy to say yes, knowing that some people might object, not knowing how Max would behave, but willing to take the risk. He was golden! He stayed quietly near his grandmother as she made the rounds; when communion was over the server had an extra vessel to be returned to the sacristy, and didn’t know what to do with it. “Give it to Max,” I said. She did, and he proudly and carefully carried it around the corner to be cleaned and put away. Since then, Max has become a regular whenever she serves, receiving communion alongside her at the outset then standing calmly in the chancel until all is finished.
The bishop recently visited, and grandmother was scheduled to serve. She asked if she should find a substitute or leave him at home that day. I assured her it would be fine to bring him up; the bishop was delighted. After the service he was speaking with the Vestry, and the conversation turned to children and the virtue of letting them experience liturgy vs. being taught “about” it in a Sunday School class. Like most of us in the parish (and this was not, initially, an easy change to manage) the bishop believes that children learn about God, Christ, and the church by participating in sacred acts of worship rather than being told about what they mean. It is how they know, he told us; then asked us, “What do you think Max knows?”
I’m grateful to Max’s grandmother for bringing him so faithfully. And whatever choices Max and his family make later in life, I pray that these formative experiences he’s having now will stay with him, and that he will hold on to these memories and to the knowledge that God loves him and the church does, too. Max has been “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever”. He may not be able to articulate that now, but surely, that is what Max knows.


  1. Thank you for a wonderful story, Cynthia. Max will treasure experiences like this because this is how children learn they are valued by the community and loved by God.

  2. Cynthia, Lude has always said that "more is caught than taught" which I firmly believe. While at such a young age they don't always grasp the full meaning they do understand that their participation has meaning. Kudos to Grandma and lucky Max!