As a child, I remember my father telling stories of his childhood and growing up in northern Minnesota in a devout Catholic family. His family loved to tell the stories of uncle Pope Pius X and how my grandmother’s grandfather ran away from home to save his future family from having to be nuns or priests. One of my favorite stories that my father used to tell was about how they earned mass points as children. A mass point, you see, was earned for each additional service you attended above the required Sunday mass each week. These could then be “cashed in” for a week they didn’t attend. To this day, I’m not really sure who was awarding these points or keeping track of a total, or even if these points were a real thing. Perhaps it was just a family joking around, since weekly church attendance was a priority to my grandparents.
Either way, I figure I’ve got several mass points these days, and if you tally them for my family, we might just be good for the rest of our lives.
Recently, I’ve had fond memories of my father’s stories around mass points having come off a month of singing Evensong or Eucharist roughly every other day between the Lincoln Choir Pilgrimage and the DC Royal School of Church Music Course. As I was preparing to be away for a few weeks of needed rest, I ran across a blog post entitled “How Skipping Church Affects Your Children” while cleaning out my inbox. The article headline caught my eye in a way it hadn’t in the past year it had been sitting in my inbox. The article discussed one particular question from a panel discussion at Westminster Theological Seminary conference in 2014, which included Westminster professor and Christian theologian, Carl Trueman. Trueman was asked to comment on why churches are losing young people.
“The church is losing its young people because the parents never taught their children that it was important. I think that applies across the board. It applies to family worship, and it also applies to whether you are in church every Sunday and what priority you demonstrate to your children church has on a Sunday. If the sun shines out and their friends are going to the beach, do you decide to skip church and go to the beach? In which case, you send signals to your children that it is not important.” (Carl Trueman)
For me, Trueman’s response hit home and despite all the Evensong in me, it hurt. His response highlights the weight of responsibility we have as parents and the effects of how we prioritize our time and lifestyle choices. When my family vacations, we usually attend church when we are away, but I’ll admit, for various reasons my clergy wife usually drags me there – because, you know, I have a lot of mass points! Trueman’s response really got me thinking about how Meredith and I raise our kids to have a deep faith and love of Christ and church, coupled with the fact that it is also our place of employment. We go to worship weekly (and usually much more), but do our kids understand that despite it being our job, it really is our top priority in our family’ life together? Do our actions and words communicate its importance? How do we teach them how to worship when we usually can’t worship alongside them? How do we practice our faith at home, especially when we’ve been “doing church” all day and really would prefer to focus on something else? What do we do when a lacrosse game conflicts with worship? Or a dance recital with an important church activity? Are our action and words teaching our kids to love Christ all the time or just when it is convenient?
We struggle with this a lot. I think we all struggle with putting Christ at the center of our life on a daily basis, regardless of our occupation or depth of faith. Reading this article has reminded me to try harder to put Christ at the center of our family’s life, especially as the school year begins and demands become greater on everyone, and to try harder to make sure my actions truly reflect my deep and abiding love of Christ, who is the most important thing in my life. I’m going to try hard to do this with God’s help, because I know my kids are watching.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Ben Keseley, Minister of Music