Earlier this week I found myself reflecting on the age-old drama that is the children’s Christmas program.

Last year, my oldest daughter, not one for the spotlight, was for the first time given a line to memorize. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, she pulled it off (just as all her fellow first timers did) with dignity and grace. She was thrilled when it was over. So were her parents.

After that experience, I was pleasantly surprised when, this year, she came home from school to report that not only would she again have a line in our church Christmas program, but that she’d also willingly taken on a speaking part in the school Winter Celebration.

“I’m not nervous,” she said. “I’ve done this before.”

Yesterday I chatted with our church music director and a choir member about this change of heart we’ve often witnessed among the children at our church. It’s not uncommon to have a preschool “Cherub Choir” member refuse to even put on the angel wings at Christmas or simply stand frozen, eyes covered, and refuse to sing. (I may or may not be talking about one of my own children.)

But it’s amazing how, if they just keep getting up there, year after year, confidence builds, and before we know it, they are auditioning for roles in school productions and community theater.

“I know why that is,” said the choir member. “It’s because here they know they are in a safe space. And the same is true for adults here, too, or for anyone who gets up to speak or sing at church.”

How had I not thought of this before? It’s true. And it’s one of the things I love most about this church. “Polished, but not perfect” I would call us. A space of grace, where we may not always remember our lines or get the notes right, but week after week faithful people of all ages get up in front of God and each other and do our best to proclaim the gospel in a genuine and imperfect — a human sort of way.

I’m so glad to be a part of a church that welcomes all ages in worship leadership, whether they like it or not. I hope it’s true that as they are empowered to stand up in front of their church family that what we are really doing is planting seeds for how they will live out their faith in the world.

When they think about how they stepped out of their comfort zones in church and were met with affirmation, praise and love, perhaps it will give them the courage to do the same when they are called upon to speak up in the face of injustice and hate outside of these walls.

I’m thankful for all the children who will go out on a limb this December to participate in our Christmas program, for all the staff and volunteers who will nurture them along the way and for all of our church family, who will inevitably applaud and encourage them as they grow in this space of grace.

Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Auburn. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Journal for Preachers, The Christian Century, and Presbyterians Today.

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