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‘Prairie lessons’ help mom provide worship experience for family

February 22, 2021

Before the pandemic, members and friends at Elkin Presbyterian Church in Elkin, North Carolina clearly enjoyed the magic of fellowship. (Photo courtesy of Elkin Presbyterian Church)

While the apocalyptic genre might seem relatable in some ways during these times we’re living in, the characters I have found myself relating to most during the pandemic are those found in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account of life in 19th century America that she writes about in “Little House on the Prairie.” Letting out the hem of last year’s dress to make do for a growing child totally makes sense now. Who needs new clothes when you never leave home? Sitting around the fire at night for a sing-along with Pa while Ma does the mending?

And then there’s Sundays.

As a Presbyterian preacher’s kid, growing up I could totally relate to Laura’s Saturday night baths and putting on her best dress for church the next day. Even the happy gatherings of shared meals on the church lawn were familiar to me. But those times when Laura’s family lived in remote areas where there was no church — or the weather kept them home — that’s where the similarities ended. Her family still celebrated the Sabbath with a day of rest and reading the Bible — at home. To me that sounded like pure torture. Not being able to run and play? Having to just read the Bible with Ma and Pa? I totally felt Laura’s pain as she fidgeted in her Sunday best.

“I would never do that to my kids,” I said to my 10-year-old self. Well guess what? Things changed.

In mid-March our county government limited the number of people gathered in one place to fewer than 10. Churches worked quickly to find ways to continue to minister to their congregations. My church was one of many that now offered the Sunday morning worship service in a new format, streaming live on Facebook. On Palm Sunday, I forced my 15-year-old daughter out of bed, dragged my 12-year-old son away from his Xbox, and we had church. At home. Just like Laura Ingalls. Only this time I’m not Laura. I’m Ma.

While out in the wild of the untamed prairie, she maintained worship on Sunday mornings, doing her best to instill a sense of order and civility in her family amid a chaotic and uncertain world. As parents, aren’t we always trying to provide stability and comfort to our kids?

Our kids are facing unknown, uncharted territory each day. Like Ma, I’m looking for ways to find purpose and meaning in life, for myself and for my family.

For me, that means sticking to our Sunday routine of going to church, even if church looks a lot different these days. Instead of sitting in our pew in stiff Sunday clothes, the kids are coming to the laptop in pajamas while I show up in dirty jeans straight from the garden.

But there’s comfort in the things that remain the same. I find comfort in the routine, but there is something more my kids and I find when we log on to the service — a sense of connectedness.

On Palm Sunday, the first Sunday we tried the new format, the screen of my laptop was divided with the livestream on the left and the dialogue box on the right. While we probably should have been watching the preacher give her sermon, our eyes were glued to the window where fellow church members typed in comments that showed us they too were online and watching. We laughed out loud when the angry face emoji floated up among the thumbs up and hearts reacting to the livestream. Did that 70-year-old church member really mean he disliked what was being said, or was he just struggling to try to participate in this new-to-him medium? (I’m going with the latter.)

When Ma helped Laura button up her Sunday dress and sat down with her children to read Bible stories at home, she knew other mothers were doing the same thing in homes and churches around the country. I understand now how those simple acts helped Ma feel connected to a larger community. After days of being cooped up together in our house, feeling pretty alone in the world, here was an important reminder that we’re not alone.

Karen Milholland Alley, Member of Elkin Presbyterian Church,  Elkin, North Carolina, and Freelance Writer and Editor

Today’s Focus:  Family Worship Experience

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Keith Dickey, Board of Pensions
Doug Dicks, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, open our hearts to the need in our midst. Teach us to respond with love to those who have lost their way by welcoming them into our communities. May we walk side by side and become instruments of your healing love for one another. Amen.

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