It’s that time of year when the bright yellow school buses suddenly reappear after their summer hibernation. Those of us who drive the backroads of Connecticut once again find ourselves waiting patiently as these buses dutifully load and discharge their occupants. By now, all the school systems in our towns have returned for a new year and our families and communities have resumed a familiar rhythm.
Here at St. Stephen’s, as is the case in so many churches, this time of year also means the return of Sunday School for our children and youth. The ranks of children, having ebbed during the summer months with vacations and summer camps, swells again; the sounds of young voices filling our hall during coffee hour, youthful energy filling our sanctuary during worship.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find myself thinking of the work of educating and forming our children and youth this time of year. As a society, we spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources to provide education, as is evidenced right now in towns across our state, as they struggle to find ways to pay for this cost considering our state’s budget problems. So, why do we do it?
At one level, we do the work of education because we believe that there are certain skills and knowledge that are required for individuals to function in our society: it is necessary to read, to have a basic knowledge of math, some familiarity with the scientific underpinnings of our modern world, and a rudimentary grasp of geo-politics if we are to make any sense of the great big world outside of our community. But there is more to it than that, for if basic functioning in society were all that we wanted for our children, then why would we bother teaching the arts, music, literature, or sports? So, at another level, we use education to instill in our children a sense of our collective identity, a sense of what it means to be human.
But if that were all that we were after, we wouldn’t push them to excel in their studies. We wouldn’t stay up late helping with homework, and we wouldn’t take the time out of evenings to meet with teachers and school officials to learn how we can best support the education of our children and youth. Yet we do, and we do it because in addition to being able to function in society, in addition to having a sense of our collective identity and humanity, we also want our children to have meaning-filled lives, to find happiness and purpose, and to make the world a better place for having lived in it.
This last reason for our work of educating and forming our children is even more salient in the wake of the violence and unrest of this summer that came to a head in Charlottesville, VA. We are called, as citizens and human beings, to do many things, the face of hatred and bigotry, fascism and racism. And one of the most important things we can do is educate and form our children. We must all participate in demonstrating to them and instilling in them the virtues of curiosity and appreciation for what makes each one of us different, generosity and compassion towards our fellow humanity, and a desire to preserve freedom and liberty for all people.
In the civic world, we do this because it is what is required to preserve the country built upon the labors of those who have come before us. It is what is necessary to defend our liberty and freedoms, not only for ourselves, but for generations to come. In church, we do this work because it is how we live into God’s promise and it is how we participate in building God’s kingdom here on earth. Either way, it is what is necessary to build a better and brighter future for our country, for our world, and for all humanity.
It makes waiting behind those yellow buses totally worth it.
The Reverend Adam Yates