By The Rev’d Jonathan Rowe
From the November 2021 print issue of Anglican Life
Over the years, I have watched a lot of grandparents take their grandchildren to church with them. Often, they do so apologetically, saying, “If I didn’t take them to church, no one would,” or with an edge of judgement, saying, “I keep telling my kids to take them to church, and I got sick of arguing with them.” There are plenty of exceptions, but overall, when children are in church, they are probably more likely to have been brought by their grandparents than by their parents. This is part of the reality of the church in the 21st century, and we can treat this as a problem to be solved, or a blessing to be appreciated.
Without a doubt, having both parents attend church regularly is one of the strongest indicators of whether children and young people will continue to attend church once they are able to “choose for themselves.” These days, however, most Christian families do not have the opportunity to all work together. Both parents might not have come from the same Christian tradition. One parent might not even be a practicing Christian. Either or both parents may have to work on Sundays, since the changing nature of work in the 21st century does not privilege Sunday as a day of rest for everyone.
But even if your family cannot meet such an ideal, it would be a mistake to assume that it is less able to pass on the faith to a new generation. It is not just having the example of parents going to church every Sunday that leads to children continuing to practice their faith. Just as important, perhaps even more important, is the example of people who take their faith seriously, beyond just going to church. Who do children see talking about their faith, putting their faith into action in their everyday lives? Sometimes grandparents have an even better opportunity to set an example for them than their own parents do.
While my own parents certainly took me to church, and talked about what they believed, and made it clear that their faith was an integral part of everyday life, I also saw the example of my grandparents. Every time I spent the night at my grandparents’ house, I would watch in the morning as they sat on the couch after breakfast, read their Bibles, and said their prayers. My own trip to the Holy Lands a few years ago was in part inspired by my other grandfather’s own desire to “walk in the place where Our Saviour walked.’” Many people that I talk to share stories of the influence their own grandparents had on their sense of what it means to be a Christian.
If that was the case in previous generations, how much more influence could grandparents have these days, when they are increasingly involved in taking care of grandchildren after school?best case scenario, regular worship should be an opportunity for multiple generations to practice their faith together, rather than a source of strife. Give thanks for the influence and example that you are able to provide. When our faith as Christians is handed down from generation to generation, it can be handed down from grandparents to grandchildren just as much as from parents to children.