Thursday, January 28, 2016

Parenting in the Pew

I’m nervous as I sit here to share some thoughts on worshiping with our young daughters.  After all, as I’ve been writing, I’ve snapped several times at my older daughters, who’ve been bickering off and on, and I’m pretty confident my youngest has colored on the walls and eaten dog food while I’ve been distracted.  But despite doubts about the quality of my parenting, Seth and I have been rethinking the way we relate to our kids during corporate worship, and we’re excited about what that means for our family.

Months ago, Robin Floch recommended Robbie Fox Castleman’s book, Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).  Before reading the book, I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that there was anything more to hope for than that the girls would keep quiet during the service and maybe hear something that would make them curious enough to ask questions during the ride home.  But Ms. Castleman encourages us to welcome children into the sanctuary and take an active role in teaching them how to worship God—“the most important thing you can ever train your child to do.” After all, “[w]orship is first [and foremost] a blessing to God, and he values the presence and praise of his children.”  Parenting in the Pew opened my eyes to see that even very young children have something beautiful to contribute to our corporate worship of God.

What does this look like in practice? In her book, which I highly recommend, Ms. Castleman gives a lot of great, practical advice for active parenting in the pew. Here are a few of the things we’ve been trying, as we work out her advice in our family:

  1. Finding ways to get out the door and on our way to church as smoothly as possible. It feels like I’m always harshest and angriest with the kids while trying to get out the door on Sunday morning. In the book, Ms. Castleman suggests preparing for Sunday morning—taking care of things like laying out clothes—on Saturday night.  These little things add up, and if we’ve taken care of a lot of the legwork in advance, we arrive at church in a much different frame of mind than if we’ve had to rush around all morning, while barking orders at the children.

  2. Preparing our kids at home for what they’ll see, hear, and do in our worship service.  We’ve been trying to make our church life an ongoing topic of conversation at home.  We look for times to talk to the girls about the symbols and practices of our regular Sunday worship, teach them some of the prayers we pray routinely, talk about Jesus’s words at the Last Supper, and suggest things to be looking and listening for during the service.  At special times during the Church year, like Advent or Holy Week, we explain to our kids what’s special about the services we’re going to attend and give them some things to anticipate: the lighting of the Advent candles, the veiling of the cross and stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, the thirty-three peals of the bell on Good Friday.  We talk about what these symbols represent, and then, when we’re at church, we can point them out to the girls and remind them of our earlier conversations. The girls love to have context for what they see and hear.  It seems to fuel their spiritual imaginations and help them respond to the Gospel embedded in our traditions and liturgical practices.

  3. Communicating to our kids that we expect them to participate in corporate worship.  We used to remind the girls as we were driving to church that they’re supposed to be quiet and considerate during the service. Now we remind them that we’re here to worship God together and that we’re excited to see them pray and hear them sing.

  4. Encouraging them to participate actively.  We try to be considerate of those around us, but parenting in the pew requires some tolerance for standing out in a crowd.  We try not to fight it if the girls want to dance in the aisles…some.  We sometimes pick them up or let them stand on their chairs, so they have a better view of the altar.  We whisper a lot: we invite them to sing and pray, and we talk to them about what the songs we sing and prayers we pray have to say about Jesus and about us.  Even when it’s hard or potentially embarrassing, we want to encourage authentic expressions of worship.

  5. Redirecting their attention when it wanders…again and again and again.  There is a constant stream of distractions in a sanctuary full of people—for adults, as well as for children.  We’ve tried to find ways to help our girls focus their hearts on worship when their minds wander.  For instance, we help our older daughter follow along in the bulletin when we sing, and we sing into our younger daughter’s ear to help her hear the words she can’t yet read.  We invite them to sing and pray along with us when they seem far away.  Even though it sometimes interrupts the flow of our own thoughts during worship, as Ms. Castleman explains: “[p]arenting in the pew can help children and parents pay attention to what is really important” (emphasis added).  I often find that the Lord speaks to my heart through my own mouth, as I try to communicate His love and goodness to the girls in worship.  

How’s all this working out for us?  If you’ve ever sat behind our family on Sunday morning, youknow: truthfully, sometimes it’s hard. The girls are still young, and it’s hard for them to sit still for long periods of time; they don’t always understand what’s being said; they don’t know many of the songs we sing or the prayers we pray.  And I’m not always the loving, patient parent I want to be. But in those (sometimes rare) moments when they’re joyfully singing or earnestly praying, it’s so beautiful that it’s almost painful.  We try to remember that the Holy Spirit is directing this process and will “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)  And we rejoice in the little victories along the way.                              
                                                                                  ~ Catherine Wood

Seth and Catherine Wood
Anna, Zoe & Fiona

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Thank You, From the Farwells

Dear Apostles Family,

The Farwells would like to express a deep sense of appreciation and thankfulness to our church family.  This adventure is not possible without you and all the wonderful ways y’all have helped us to grow in our 10+ years at Apostles.  This Sunday (earlier in January) we choked back our tears as we are keenly aware of all those we are leaving behind.

In the midst of our preparations, we have received a gift that our staying would have allowed to remain dulled to our awareness…we feel deeply loved by y’all.  Each day we have been confronted anew by this reality, which we intellectually already knew, but now have the privilege to know, experience and live in this reality.  It is truly indescribable.  We have been showered with blessings in countless ways.  

 - Thank you for family and friends who have spent time with our children so we can focus on the tasks at hand.

 - Thank you for friends who come out to play one last football game with Tate and create great memories.
 - Thank you for friends who clean our house.
 - Thank you for friends who provided meals.
 - Thank you for friends who provide things we need, give beyond what is thought possible and ask us what more can they do to help.
 - Thank you for friends who just listen, cry with us and encourage us.  
 - Thank you for a church family that loves us and is a source of such encouragement.

Who would want to leave this?  And yet there is a world out there which knows nothing of this amazing love found only in Jesus and experienced within His people.  So we go filled with his love, because so many living like Jesus first loved us.  This enables us to share this incredible gift of love with others who are hurting, who don't even know this kind of love exists.  We will our miss y’all so much.  Thank you for walking with us in becoming more like Him.

Hazak and love,

The Farwells  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Jesus Swept

My earliest and fondest memories of growing up in church are from Sunday School.  My mom loves to tell the story of when I came bouncing out of Sunday School at age 5 boasting that I had learned the shortest scripture in the Bible … “Jesus swept.”  (I was a little off.  See John 11:35.  I also later learned how profound that short passage is.)  When I was 9 years old, we moved to Wallace, NC, where my parents still live today. My family has long since left the Baptist church that I went in and out of thousands of times, but I can still remember that old building quite well.  The cold tile floors, the green chalkboards, the strong coffee coming from the “adult hallway”.  I first set foot in that church in 1987, but I knew even then that the taupe paint and heavy wooden doors had not been changed since the 1960s when my mother attended as a teenager.  

As cold and sometimes dark the interiors could feel, it was easily warmed on Sunday mornings with the faithful teachers and students of Sunday School.  Traditionally, Sunday School began at 9:45 and “big church” at 11:00.  The 4th grade class met downstairs with Ms. Jewrell Brown.  "Ms. Jewrell" was wider than she was taller which only meant she gave the best hugs in the world, especially to us little ones.  She couldn’t say the words “ventriloquist” or “stomach” which always sent the class, and her, into wonderful fits of laughter.  She taught me memory verses, the words and motions to “This Little Light of Mine” (which we sang every week), and most of all, how to truly lead with a servant’s heart in the body of Christ.  This set the foundation of community and Biblical study that carried through my life.

After I’d moved away from home and attended other churches, I noticed more and more congregations that did not offer Sunday School classes.  While it seemed more convenient in my now busy life to have a shorter day at church, it was something that I was definitely missing.  That sense of communal study in the church (building) was something that I could not find the same way in any other setting.  When I began attending Church of the Apostles a year and a half ago, I was excited to see that fall classes were about to begin.  I immediately signed up and was glad that I did!  What a great way to get to know people as a new attendee.  I especially loved the inter-generational aspect that Sunday School seems to foster.  It is so valuable to experience life with those from different age groups … we had more in common than you might think.

As classes at Apostles start up again this Sunday (for children and adults!), I encourage you to consider joining a class.  Whether you are a Biblical scholar, someone who doesn’t know Corinthians from Thessalonians, looking to connect with the congregation or just curious about religion and how it could possibly relate to your daily life, there is a place for you!  Check the link below for a list of adult classes being offered.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

~ Laura Witter, COTA Staff

Monday, January 11, 2016

Community HOPE

Community Hope mentoring is off to a great start at Apostles! Please pray for our Apostles mentors, for Quinny - Community Hope Director, and for these bright-eyed Community Hope students to know the love of Christ.

For more information or to volunteer for the program, please contact Julie Gilstrap (  Programs like this are made possible by Freedom for Mission.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Update From the Farwell's

January 16th...

It is difficult to believe that it is all actually happening.  Almost a year long process to get to this point.  So many bureaucratic hoops to jump through and lots of paperwork.  And now we are 13 days away from getting on an airplane. Janie and I often look at each other and say 'breathe' step at a time.  There is much packing and details to be taken care of before we depart.  Many ask us if we are excited, and there are moments, but for the most part those feelings probably won't come until we get on the airplane.  Presently, it is consoling Kensie as she grieves change and can spend literally hours crying about all the upheaval that is happening in her world. (see her note she slipped under our door just a few days ago) And Tate, when asked in Sunday School if everyone was looking forward to Christmas, he mutters under his breath, 'no because that means we are closer to leaving'. To say my heart aches would be an understatement.  And, then, there is Sadie who just seems to bloom where she is planted. Yet, she will tell you she is excited and nervous.  She is worried about the plane crashing. 

"My haert is broken in four,, with are Kenslow Ellen Farwell."

Why go?  We would be lying to you if I said those thoughts did not enter our minds from time to time.  It would be so much easier to stay.  Our little ones would see it as an intervention from the Lord not to go.  And yet, here we are:  tickets purchased, still no visas, a house half packed and trusting the Lord will do amazing things in us.  In us?  Yep...we need to experience Him, His healing and enjoy His presence so we can truly share Him with others. If not, then what we share is a wonderful true theological story that hits an emotional cord but seems somewhat distant and detached from this present reality. The gospel is about a living God who is active today.  He is alive and that reality is the lynch pin to God's redeeming story. 

Our hope and prayer is that our little ones will open their hearts to experience Jesus for themselves and for us to go deeper with Him.  To teach them to turn to Him in the midst of pain and discomfort rather than turning to things to distract from uncomfortable feelings.  But for this to even be possible, there has to be discomfort.  Something to jar us from our slumber to a greater adventure that awaits...being a part of God's redemption in the lives of others and those new believers igniting a spark that grows into a movement of Jesus' being proclaimed as redeemer, healer, restorer of lives.  

I share all this because I'm preaching to ourselves.  We are trying to figure out how to lead with courage, hopefulness and honesty.  To move forward despite the unknowns, to have hope in the midst of uncertainty and to be honest that we are feeling sad to leave as well.  We leave behind family: Janie's sister, who has cancer and we will not be here to walk with her through as she begins her healing process; grandparents and cousins who will not see our little ones for longer than normal; friends who have been so amazingly supportive of our move.  The outpouring of love, support and encouragement has been overwhelming.  We are blessed to be surrounded by such amazing family, friends, supporters and church family!  

Prayer Requests
1) Being able to see everyone and say goodbye well over the next two weeks.
2) Our visas will arrive in time.
3) For the emotional endurance to help the little ones with their emotions - to be present and feel with them.
4) Arrangements for our apartment over there.  We are having a wood burning stove installed before we arrived.  Lots of details obviously to get settled.
5) Getting the house set for our friends to move in - that it will be a blessing to them.

Contacting Us In Israel
You will be able to call us directly on our home number: 919-846-2778.  We are using republic wireless and we can use our phones through the internet.  

Mailing address at Jerusalem University College is:
P.O. Box 1276, Mt. Zion
9101202 Jerusalem, ISRAEL

Copyright © John and Janie Farwell, All rights reserved.