Blessings––What memory will you make happen?
By Bishop James Swanson Sr.
It must have been the Christmas Pageant of 1960 at James D. Burress Elementary School when I was chosen to be one of the shepherds for that pageant. The school choir would be singing a Christmas carol “O Holy Night” and when they began to sing the verse “Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices…” I, and my two other shepherd friends, were to fall on our knees and cover our faces. (I still love that carol) It was the highlight of my elementary school years and I still get goose bumps thinking about that scene. I don’t know if that Christmas pageant had the same impact on my friends that it had on me but I will never forget it. I even wonder while I’m writing this “What happened to those guys?” Did they stay with or were they ever a part of the Church?
Statistics as far back as 1985 said that for every four boys who attend church we lose three by the time they reach the age of 18. If that statistic is correct then I wonder what caused me to stay rather than what caused the other three to leave. I would rather spend my time examining what are the positive elements we can begin to create and implant in boys lives to provide them with positive influences that might help them stay with Christ and the Church rather to choose to leave. I also believe if we can help congregations, faith communities and churches create these environments we can create disciples that will live those principles out in their lives that will affect the young lives they come into contact with outside the church.
I was blessed to be a part of two congregations between birth and 30. And I’ve never thought about it until now in this way, but both Green Chapel and Duncan Memorial Churches were blessings to me.
I went to church because I enjoyed being there. The people created an atmosphere that made me want to be there every Sunday and even during the in-between times.
According to a recent study by Lifeway Research, attending church on a consistent basis was one of the greatest indicators of whether or not young people would continue to be a part of a worshipping community throughout their lives. Well that was a part of my experience. And although my mom did expect me to attend church, she never compelled me to participate in the “extracurricular” activities of church life. Yet, I gravitated in that direction. I was also blessed with men who took time to speak to me, instruct me, congratulate me, encourage me and even let me cry on their shoulders when my mom died.
There was an expectation in that small church that I was to be an example of what it meant to be a “saint.” I assure you that I never lived up to that expectation, but I didn’t go out of my way to be a bad example. I was given the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes and to give leadership in my church among the youth and the adults.
Look around, especially this Advent Season, and see “What Memory You Will Make Happen?” for a boy or girl in your church or community in need of your attention and encouragement. Create a space for them to see God in you, so they will “fall on their knees and hear the angel voices” in you.
Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., president
General Commission on United Methodist Men