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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

The glories of chaos

They were a little short on parent volunteers to help with the kindergarten Valentine’s Day party, so the lovely Mrs. McKinley and I volunteered to join the merriment in our grandson Luke’s room with the stipulation that I not be asked to help with a craft. I don’t do crafts, even at the kindergarten level.

So there I was, assisting at a Cupid Bingo game, helping the young scholars differentiate between the picture of the heart that said “Hug Me” and the picture of the heart that said “I Love You.” For youngsters who were, on that day, 99 days into kindergarten, this is no small thing.  While this duty had its taxing elements, I did have time along the way to stand back and marvel at this creature that is Kindergarten in 2012.

When I attended kindergarten shortly after the Civil War, it was a joyless undertaking. My teacher, whom we will refer to as Mrs. R, insofar as some of her descendants might want to bring legal action against me, was known to everyone in the school to be the wife of a prison guard. 

Some even believed that she and her husband lived inside the prison. Whether that was true or not, I have always associated kindergarten with prison. We sat at tables. The same tables. All year. Woe be unto the child who dared speak or stand up without first raising his or her hand to gain the permission of Mrs. R, which was never given frivolously. 

We did not talk to each other. We all did the same thing, at the same time. A recess break was provided in the course of the afternoon during which we lined up at the restrooms and made use of same. If you needed the restroom at some other time, tough luck. Now we learn our letters. Now we learn our numbers. Now we work on our colors. All together. All the time. At our tables. 

On her lighthearted days Mrs. R wore a navy colored dress. Most days she wore a black dress. She was incredibly old. By then I had it in my mind that if I were as awful a person as Mrs. R seemed to think I was, one day I would end up in prison and kindergarten would have prepared me for it.

Luke attends a different kind of kindergarten. His teacher, whom we will call Mrs. M, is a cheerful young woman who is perpetually smiling. She bounces from place to place. To the outsider the room seems chaotic.  Different children do different things in different places at different times. They move around without even asking permission. They talk to each other. The room is a bright, happy place, filled with fascinating bits of this and that, and Luke loves going there. And what he is learning is far beyond anything we ever learned when I was in kindergarten. This is a new kindergarten world, and I think it is a better world, even though some old-timers might have trouble getting used to it.

While it wasn’t as penal seeming as kindergarten was, the church I was ordained into was just as big on good order. Points were given for conformity to expectations, for doing things the same way everybody else did them. The denomination published a confirmation curriculum, and that was what we used. Period. End of debate. We all did. New hymnal comes out and you can choose between Setting One and Setting Two, but you will use one or the other. (OK, there were a few daring crackpots who went for Setting Three, but not many.)

What fun it is to work with interns and supervisors in church settings that are more like Mrs. M’s classroom than they are like Mrs. R’s! I count myself lucky to have the opportunity to see up close the great things that are happening in the church of today, a church that appreciates and rewards creativity and imagination, that lives with variety, that laughs and loves and sings and celebrates and organizes and demonstrates. In comparison to the church I was ordained into, today’s church is chaos. Marvelous chaos.

Anyway, it is fun to see what you’re up to these days, and to celebrate your chaos, just as I celebrate the creative and educational kindergarten chaos of Mrs. M’s room! If they are looking for volunteers in the future, Papa Steve would be happy to come back, as long as it doesn’t involve a craft.

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