A few parishes ago, a mother and father who were pillars of the congregation, wanted me to pray for their children and grand-children. They lamented that their kids did not go to church and that their grand-children were not being raised in the faith. They also wanted prayer for one of their children who was abusing alcohol.
They seemed bewildered as to how this had happened, insisting this was not the way they had raised their children. So, I told them that I disagreed with them—that this was precisely how they raised them, and are still raising them, and, for that matter, are raising their grand-children too.
Nonetheless, I told them that I would pray for all of them if they would do just one thing. That one thing was that whenever the kids and grand-kids came to visit, that the parents/grand-parents would come to church. This, you may guess, they never did before; they always stayed home to visit with the family, instead of coming to worship God. You may also guess that they immediately rejected my plan, saying that the kids came to visit them and would not come to church with them, so they would miss out on that time with their family.
To which I responded: And this is exactly how you have been raising your kids to not go to church. You are, in effect, telling them that they are more important than God.
To the parents’ credit, they ended up agreeing with my plan. They next time the kids and grand-kids came to town, the parents were in church without them. Furthermore, their kids told them that if they were going to church, then they’d just pack up and head for home, that they wouldn’t be there when they got home from church. But the parents came to worship God anyway. I encouraged them to keep it up and reminded them that God was hearing our prayers.
The next time those kids and grand-kids visited, they came with the parents/grand-parents. Before that Sunday, however, the parents reported to me that their children had joined a church in their own hometown since the Sunday that they had been left at home during worship.
But it was the next time the family was in town that was most dramatic. The other son, the one abusing alcohol, came forward for Holy Communion with the whole family. He had tears in his eyes as he confessed at the altar and received the Body and Blood of Christ. I don’t know if I have ever experienced God’s grace received in such a moving and visible way before or since.