Parenting the Church

Column by Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft on 5 March 2020 2 Comments

My youngest turned four on Monday.  Typing that is surreal. The past almost six years of my life have been a holy blur of snot, too little sleep, food & toy messes, nursing and pumping, doctor’s appointments, and countless nights falling asleep on the couch with too much left undone. For one glorious month, until our twins turned two, my partner and I had three children under 2 suddenly in our care. Moments of contemplation, devotion, and prayer, if I’m truly honest, were few and far between – admits the ordained minister employed by churches.  The guilt I’ve felt from time to time about my lack of religious devotion has been met by countless mothers and parents of young children who’ve confided:

“I used to be an activist, now I don’t know who I am!” 

“We never make it to church anymore.”

“I can’t remember the last time I thought about God.”

I was 35 weeks pregnant with my third while serving at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in midtown Manhattan. My responsibilities of Outreach and Mission kept me away from Family Ministry. But that morning, a mother invited me to join the parents group. I stepped away from (what I thought were) my morning responsibilities and sat in for the visiting lecturer. I can’t remember her name (apologies, wonderful human!), but I will never forget how she opened.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me,  I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me.”

Matthew 25 35-40

Tears welled up in my eyes.

I got it.

Yes. My daily mundane tasks are holy, are “doing to the least of these” right in front of me, are ordained.

For I was screaming in the middle of the night and you woke up to help me

For I was learning to walk and you held my hand 

For I was having a tantrum and you helped me through it 

My 4 year old passed me her virus on Sunday, putting my entire week out of whack – so much so that this very article is late. Nothing was coming to me. I didn’t have time to think. I couldn’t get up early enough to write.

I can’t remember the last time I thought about God. 

And then I remembered.

For I was sick and you took care of me.  

And there within is God.

There within is my frontline of truth, my wisdom for the moment to share with the world.

Meister Eckhart says that God is at home. It’s we who have gone out for a walk.

Where are we going for a walk, intellectualizing away the very God in our midst? Where are we overthinking what we have upon which to reflect, to miss the God of the mundane? Matthew Redmond says that “We are not saved from mediocrity and obscurity, the ordinary and the mundane. We are saved in the midst of it. We are not redeemed from the mundane. We are redeemed from the slavery of thinking our mundane life is not enough.”

While I don’t think slavery is the appropriate word to use here, Redmond is right. Our mundane life is where the divine lives.

“What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor in “Alters to the World.”

One of the reasons parents with young children don’t come to Church is because they aren’t seen. The morning routine to get out the door is a marathon. The stressful “will my child cry”, have to go to the bathroom, run down the aisle, interrupt the sermon mind juggle is REAL.

Do we want young people at Church? Do we WANT caregivers in Church? Our actions, or lack thereof, provide the answers. And here’s the real truth. Not only SHOULD we be actively encouraging and supporting parents, helping them see the sacredness of their routines, but the Church has quite a lot to learn from the youngest minds and would benefit from centering those small voices.

Jesus knew what he was doing, after all, when he said in Matthew to his disciples, “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”

I FaceTimed one of my five-year-olds right before stepping into our Ash Wednesday service. (Night services are hard for parents with young children!) While explaining what I was about to do, he asked, “but why do we need ashes to get us to Easter?” And then my entire intro to worship changed.

God’s kin-dom is made up of people like these.

And it’s made up of the parents and caregivers, aunties, friends, grandparents who give them something to drink when they are thirsty.

Parents and caregivers, you are on the frontlines of the revolution. You are raising humans that will perpetuate white supremacy, or be actively anti-racist. You are raising humans that can break down walls rather than build them.  So stop thinking your praying has ended, or your activism decreased.

Your homes are the very grounds upon which Jesus walks. Every day. And sometimes, in the middle of the night when we’d really rather be asleep.

For you were tired, mom, and I held you.

For you didn’t have enough time, dad, and I gave you grace.

For you think you’re doing a bad job, parent, and I rejoice in your being.

For you question your call, caregiver, and I sing praises for your holy care.

For you didn’t know what to write, minister, and this was it.

Where are we, in our Churches, downplaying, “othering” or infantilizing the ministry of parents or the prophetic-ness of children? Whether you’re a parent or not, this question is for all of us who care about the future of the Church.

My four-year-old’s sickness passed to me reminds me that this is my most immediate and pressing call, and that attending to that provides grace and truth the world needs.  What is your most immediate and pressing call?  What is your Church’s?  What is right in front of you today?  Do you believe God can speak there?  I do.  And I believe your listening and sharing that wisdom ushers in the kin-dom of God.

May it be so.

~ Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft



I agree with you on evolution, homosexuality and more. However, I think we need to appreciate the fact that the conservatives" problem with evolution is based on more than Genesis. The premise of the Old Testament is that God does stuff on earth - lots of stuff. If God is not managing how life forms on earth are created, what else isn't He (She) managing or doing? The notion that the messes we create on earth are not part of God's plan and that God is not going to intervene and fix them is a scary thought. The question is how can we get the conservatives to accept the idea that we are responsible? Jesus showed us what to do. How can we get them to accept that now it is up to us to do it?


If I understand you correctly, you are attempting to pull the limited perspective you believe progressive Christians hold with respect to the concerns of conservative Christians back to see a broader picture; namely, that it is naïve to think problems evangelicals have with evolution flow simply from the anti-evolution perspective taken from a literal reading of the book of Genesis. You are arguing that their beliefs are grounded not only in the creation myths of the Hebrew Scriptures, but also in their belief in the ongoing manifestation of the works undertaken by the god called God throughout the entirety of the Bible. Recognizing that there have been a lot of hiccups along the way from then to now, many of them creating havoc in the lives or extinctions of various species on Earth – including humans – you note the challenges inherent in giving up the belief that all of that proceeds forth from God’s hands.

The notion that the messes we create on earth are not part of God's plan and that God is not going to intervene and fix them is a scary thought.

That is a scary thought, indeed, if it is one that challenges your worldview; that is, if you have sincerely believed the biblical premise, “Good and bad each happen at the command of God Most High,” (Lamentations 3:38 CEV) and then lose faith in that premise, well, you’re not going to feel comfortable for a long, long time. If E.V.E.R.

Convincing a conservative Christian that it is we, all of humanity, who have the “whole wide world in our hands”, is about as likely to happen as convincing a seaside village to head for the hills when those who most skilled at predicting tsunamis see absolutely no sign of one on its way. Or, tragically, convincing a government that a new virus has the potential to trigger a global catastrophe, a pandemic. Dr. Li Wenliang, 34, died trying.

We ignore our fears on a moment by moment basis. Even when a threat does break free of our inner reflexes and responses and reaches our awareness, a healthy mind will often rationalize it away if it isn’t in keeping with one’s underlying worldview, resting as that does upon innumerable assumptions and inherent beliefs. An evangelical perspective provides a compelling interpretation for the devastations we see unfolding around the world. What we see is human destruction; what they see is God’s retribution.

Bishop Spong, after years of arguments with evangelicals about homosexuality, decided to refuse to engage on the topic. He had said what he had to say; those who had ears to hear did and those whose ears were stoppered didn’t. In moving on, he continued to be a remarkable catalyst for change. But a catalyst, remember, is not consumed by the reaction it instigates. Neither was Jack Spong. He simply shifted his focus and placed what he had to offer before those to whom it would make a difference, those whose hearts would be fortified by his words.

I encourage you to do this same thing. Find ways to inspire and engage those with whom you share a basic worldview. There will be sufficient convincing to be done there, I expect. “The notion that the messes we create on earth are not part of God's plan and that God is not going to intervene and fix them” is such a scary thought as to invite the kind of break from reality that turns us away from what needs to be done rather than toward. But we must lean in; our weakness often holds our greatest strength within its folds. Share your strength; invite people beyond their fear. There is much to do and much, much more counting upon our doing it.

Web of Life, Song by R. Scott Kearns

Web of life, home to all,
each belongs, great and small.
Bond of life connecting all,
we help and harm, rise and fall.
Awesome world, awesome home,
in our hands, ours alone.
Making choices in that light,
we join as one to guard the web of life.

(c) 2015, R. Scott Kearns

~ Rev. Gretta Vosper




2 thoughts on “Parenting the Church

  1. I so appreciated Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft’s writing about parenthood. I have never had a child and now will be more patient with children in the church. After all, she made a very good point about that bigotry is taught, so patience is ultimate! Thank you for your thoughts!

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