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Why Artists Belong in the Church Nursery
Image: Gatanass / Flickr

I should probably confess my bias at the outset: I love kids.

As a kid, I loved babies. In middle school, I told my mother that I couldn't wait to be a dad. My sisters and I vowed with no small amount of chutzpah over against Providence that we would each produce four children. (This, in part, was a way to address the certainty that the Almighty had unjustly dealt us only one first cousin. Our children would not suffer the same fate.)

My plan was to get married in my early 20s, then to start having babies by 25, which, I thought, was a perfect age to bring little people into the world. As it turned out, I married just shy of 36 and by God's grace I saw my first baby at 39.

While I wait for God to give us more children, I take pleasure in the children God has already given me and my sisters' children, four of Christine's, two of Stephanie's, whom I have thoroughly enjoyed 15 years now. I also enjoy pretty much anybody else's kids, which is why I had the time of my life during my first stint of service in our church nursery.

As I mentioned to some friends afterward, while half the 1 and 2-year-olds regarded my beard warily, the other half used plastic farm and kitchen utensils to comb it. I'm not exactly sure why that made me so happy, but it did; it was kids being kids and my beard being put to good use.

All morning long, I repeated, "It's ok, it's ok" (to soothe frayed little people nerves); "Please be gentle" (to encourage less semi-savage behavior as some of the more enthusiastic kids made a grab for another child's toy); and "Excellent tea!" (as we celebrated our never-ending tea party).

One of my favorite parts was leading the children in a rousing version of "The Wheels on the Bus," as they gnawed their Cheez-Its and cookie snack. Seriously, I could have played musical theater director nonstop.

A few years back, while on staff as an associate pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, I organized a conference for artists, pastors, theologians, and educators. At the event, a mild argument broke out between a panelist on stage and a member of the audience regarding artists' responsibilities to the church. It was a question I had felt keenly, as someone who had worn not only a pastor's hat but also an artist's hat (chiefly in the theater arts).

Long story short, the issue of whether artists should volunteer in the nursery came up. One person argued strongly against it, the other argued boldly for it.

The former maintained that artists should be allowed to serve the church in other ways, mainly, by letting them do what they do best: make art and by that to invite us to revel in the abundance of God's creation. Artists are there to imagine the world otherwise, as God does, and, in a manner unique to the language of the arts, to advance God's shalom throughout all parts of society, including the life of the church.

It was hard enough, he argued, for artists to make work, let alone make good work. The fact that fellow Christians often dismissed the vocation of artists as largely irrelevant made it more difficult for artists to fulfill their God-given purposes. So the usual sentiment went: "Set aside your silly artistic preoccupations and do something spiritually useful: Help out the kids ministry." Our panelist thought this sentiment was theologically wrong-headed and disastrous even to so-called spiritual matters.

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Why Artists Belong in the Church Nursery