I grew up in a small church.

When I was growing up, we probably had 50-100 people in worship on a weekend, and maybe that doesn’t seem all that small–but compared to the church I’m in now, that has closer to 500 in worship on a weekend, it was small.

Plus, it felt small.

It felt small, because it was such a tight-knit community. I knew a lot of people at my church, and a lot of people knew me. And I’m talking more than just a youth group of my peers–after all, for most of my youth, our youth group consisted of my sister and I and a pair of brothers… plus, whatever friends from school we brought along.

Most of my community at church was made up of people my parents’ age and older. I had a lot of aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas in my church family. People who I looked up to. People who invested in me.

Adults who didn’t scoff when I wanted to play handbells in the adult bell choir as a fifth grader. Instead, they got me a foot stool to stand on so I could see my music.

Talented musicians who encouraged a beginning trumpet player to join the chamber orchestra.

Men who rolled with the punches as this unnaturally-deep-voiced middle schooler sang tenor with them in the adult choir.

Among my youth ministry colleagues, we now work diligently to ensure that our youth have this kind of experience, whether it is in a small country church or a large two-campus church with six worship services a weekend. We strive to help parents become “relationship architects” for their kids, developing faith webs (thanks, Gary Pecuch!) full of cross-generational friends and mentors.

So, when I teach the kids in my confirmation program about faith webbing and the importance for having mentors–spiritual parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles–I usually start by telling them stories of the people who accompanied me through my own walk.

I tell them about people like Ernie, who could light up any room that he walked into. A man who encouraged me as a kid, and wasn’t afraid to give me a hug or high five. Ernie was a man who set an incredible example of living a life of faith and service to Jesus and to the church up until the day he passed into eternity on Christmas 1998.

I tell them about Pastor Bob Reinhardt, who was the pastor that confirmed me when I was in 8th grade, and my sister after me, before he retired.

I tell them about people like Bob & Leah who were, well, there. Always. I remember running up into the balcony to Leah’s office first thing anytime we came to church–just to see if she was there and to say hi.

I remember wise women like Irene, an older (er, more mature) woman in our congregation who took a ragtag bunch of middle schoolers and helped us use our gifts to serve in worship through a puppet ministry. And we would start rehearsal every Tuesday night with a devotion–and I distinctly remember that for a good chunk of time, that devotion came from reading chapters of the classic Charles Sheldon novel, In His Steps. I still have that book on my shelf today as a result.

Finally, and without hesitation, I always tell stories of Paul and Laurene Pride.

Mr. & Mrs. Pride were my church grandparents. See, I didn’t really have any grandparents that lived nearby. Both of my biological grandmothers passed away before I was born. And, that could have left a pretty significant hole in my web of intergenerational relationships. But it didn’t. Because Mr. & Mrs. Pride were at church every Sunday. When my parents went out of town, my sister and I would stay at Mr. & Mrs. Pride’s house. They would show up at my band concerts, and give me hugs when they saw me, and encourage me both in everything I set my mind to.

Over time, I’ve grown up (believe it or not). I credit much of my character, faith, and accepting the call to ministry to these fine people, along with my incredibly loving and supportive parents. I could tell story after story of how these folks and many others have left their fingerprints on my heart and life. I could probably point to ways that each of them has influenced the way I live out my calling now in youth ministry.

And, as is the case with life and intergenerational relationships, over time, several of these people have gone home to spend eternity with Jesus.

Ernie in December 1998.

Paul in the summer of 2006.

Bob in February 2009.

And today, we will say goodbye to Laurene Pride–a woman for whom I will always, always be grateful. It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone who is so dear to our hearts, but I know that Mrs. Pride has spent the latter half of this week hanging out with Jesus, ringing bells and making beautiful music in heaven. And her legacy lives on.

It lives on in me. It lives on in the many students who she taught music to over her years as a teacher. It lives on in her children and grandchildren.

It is a legacy of music, and of hope, and of faith.


2 thoughts on “Goodbyes, and Growing up in a Smaller Church

  1. Beautifully written… way to make me cry, Erin! 🙂 Love you all and am grateful for the reminder of the impact these people have had on our whole family.


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