The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church is located in Rocky Mount, NC. They run a pretty good preschool there, from what I can remember. The details are sketchy, but I know that they had a sidewalk that ran through their play area. I also know that in 1982, a 3-year-old boy was standing in a wagon on that sidewalk. I know that the wagon was pulled. I know that the boy wasn't expecting that at all and fell out of the wagon, crashing his head into the previously mentioned sidewalk. I know that his ears rang for at least the rest of the day. I know that, because it's my first memory. At a church, on the ground, my ears ringing, and no clue about God, Jesus, prayer, or the Church.
There just aren't too many children out there that are going to get excited about concepts like "Alpha and Omega" or even "died for my sins." They know what they're supposed to say. The answer to all questions asked in a children's Sunday School class are either 1) "Jesus" or 2) "The Bible." They know the stories that they're told. Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Noah's Ark, Abraham almost killing his kid, Jacob wrestling the angel, Moses & Pharaoh, Joshua & the Battle of Jericho, David & Goliath, Sampson & Delilah, Jonah & the Whale, The Birth of Christ, Jesus' parables, a few miracles, Palm Sunday, The Last Supper, The Death of Christ, The Resurrection of Christ, Saul on the Road to Damascus becoming the Apostle Paul, and they have a vague idea that they're supposed to be impressed by how young Timothy is. They don't really know what any of that means, though.
For example, there was Sammi. Sammi was in third or fourth grade(take your pick...I can't remember) when her parents allowed her to stay for Holy Communion. The bread went by and she took her piece, and I soon followed with the tray of shot glasses full of grape juice. I handed it to Sammi and said "Sammi, this is the blood of Christ..." That was all I got out before she screamed right at me, in that shrill little voice that all little girls have when they need it, "Ewww!" Sammi could rattle off the story of the Last Supper without so much as an "Um..." escaping her lips.
That's not to say that the Church is totally inaccessible to children. There are two things that I could understand and embrace as a child growing up in the Church.
1) God loves me and all God wants is that love returned.
It seemed simple enough to me. God never got fussed with me when I would play with the automatic doors at the Harris Teeter. My mom did. God never made fun of me for dropping pop flies to right field. My friends did. God never yelled at me for running the water hose and making dams in the driveway. My dad did. I didn't know exactly who or what God was, but I was glad to have God there.
2) The Church is not the building, it's the people.
I don't know why I fixated on this aspect of the Church so much as a child. I would correct people when they would refer to buildings as churches, insisting that the people who met in those buildings were the Church. I was particularly proud to be able to call myself a part of that group. My care to take this fact to heart is also part of what bothers me the most about what's happening to my faith now, but I'll get to that later.
As a child, my life revolved around the various parishes my parents were charged with ministering to. There were Cub Scout meetings, bazaars with toys and treats, plays, and songs. I loved those. There were strangers' family reunions, boring meetings where my brothers and I would have to sit outside of the church offices and be quiet, and old ladies that would scowl at us for daring to giggle in church. What was important to me, though, were those two truths that I could understand and cling to. What mattered to me was that everyone around me was in this thing called Christianity - whatever that meant - together. What mattered to me was that we were all loved by this all-seeing all-knowing mystery called God.
What I want...right now...at 28 years of age...I want to be able to feel like that again when I walk into a sanctuary on a Sunday morning. I want to feel like all that's important is God's love and the fact that the people around me are all in this thing called Christianity with me.