(Image: Bingham+ with daughter gathered at the altar with other St. Mary's children and parents for The Great Thanksgiving.)
As a child, Dad used to take me to work on weekdays when I didn’t have school. At the Diocesan Close in Lake Oswego, every day would begin with Morning Prayer, except for Wednesdays. Those were Eucharist days. When Dad would travel around the Diocese on Sundays, he would begin every sermon by letting the congregation know that the staff began every morning at the Diocesan offices in prayer and they had held the congregation he was visiting in their prayers that week. Sometimes, on days when Dad didn’t go into the office, I would get up early enough in the morning to see him sitting on the couch with his prayer book and Bible reading Morning Prayer. When I was at the office with Dad, he would invite me to come worship with them, but he never forced me. And he never invited me or even suggested that I do Morning Prayer at any other time. It was just his daily practice. Every morning, he started his day by opening himself up to God through prayer and the reading of Holy Scripture.
During my junior year in college, I had a yearning to grow more deeply in my relationship with God. I had started attending the Eucharist weekly again after a bit of a hiatus, but I wanted something more. So, I picked up my barely used Book of Common Prayer (a confirmation present back in Middle School) and turned to the section on Morning Prayer and started figuring out what to do. Nobody taught me. Nobody forced me. Nobody even encouraged me. I had just seen my father start his days that way and thought that it seemed like a good place to start.
A few years ago, the scholars Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton did a study on adolescent spirituality. They found that the best social indicator of a teenager’s spirituality was their parents’ spirituality. It wasn’t determinative, it wasn’t a guarantee of a child’s spirituality, but it was highly important. The most active teenagers in church, often – not always, but often – have highly active parents in church.
When I read this study, I thought about my own experience. My faith was mostly caught, not taught, as the author John Westerhoff once put it. My parents had an active faith life, and I caught it. Dad didn’t teach me to do Morning Prayer, but his long-term commitment to the spiritual practice planted a seed in my head and heart that when the time was right bloomed. When I needed it, when I was finally open to it, I knew where to go. It is an experience I have seen time and again in parish ministry. For the most part, the most active youth in the church have at least one active parent. And the most active college kids and the most active young adults again are those with the most active parents.
As a parent now myself, I wonder about my kids. I want them to have a robust faith. How can I help achieve that? My own experience and this study confirm that my own spiritual life is an important part of my kids’ faith journey. Finding ways to do prayers as a family is important. Reading Bible stories to them is important. Talking about God with them is important. Going to church together is important. But I also need to find ways to keep deepening my own faith to help them catch it. I need to make spiritual growth a priority in my life. Bingham+