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The PC(USA)’s ‘Around the Table’ podcast looks at faithfully parenting children through different life stages

The six-part podcast is an initiative of the Office of Christian Formation

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The fourth episode of the “Around the Table” podcast series features Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastors talking about how parents can have faith conversations with their children throughout different stages of the child’s life. Listen to the 32-minute edition here.

The six “Around the Table” installments, created by the Office of Christian Formation, are hosted by the Rev. Michelle Thomas-Bush and the Rev. Cliff Haddox. This episode features the Rev. Bill Buchanan, a Christian educator, pastor and the executive director of Youth Mission Co. in Asheville, North Carolina, and the Rev. Melanie Marsh, the transitional pastor at Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami, who spoke during APCE’s Annual Event in January.

Marsh has “youngish” children, while Buchanan’s are in their 20s.

Marsh said faith conversations often occur around the table. But they’re just as likely to happen in another spot in the home she shares with her three children.

The Rev. Melanie Marsh

“A funny thing happens in our house,” Marsh said. “I’ll get home in the afternoon and have meetings at night. Between afternoon and meetings, we congregate on my giant bed in my bedroom. That’s often where congregations happen,” because “the bed is the largest congregating spot in the house.”

Holding faith conversations becomes harder “as the kids have gotten older and they have all these different influences in their lives, including family members who are telling them their ideas about the world and faith and God. It’s a lot of competition for viewpoints,” Marsh said. “I’m lucky to have close people in my life from around the faith community who are also part of the conversation. Other adults who are similarly minded spiritually will join in the conversation from time to time, which is helpful.”

One day, Marsh’s daughter, a seventh grader, was having “interesting conversations with classmates about women in ministry, oddly enough,” she said with a laugh. “She overheard a kid saying, ‘Women can’t be leaders in church.’ My daughter said, ‘My mom’s a pastor, and at my church, we have always had women pastors.’”

“She’s having full-on theological debates with seventh grade boys!” her mother said with a bit of awe.

The Rev. Bill Buchanan

“I forget who said this,” Buchanan said. “Parenting teenagers is a journey of going from being the child’s manager to being their consultant. … They learn fairly quickly what they can consult you on and what they can’t, what you can handle talking about and what you can’t.”

“Over time,” Buchanan said, “I’ve found when they become teenagers, it became less about me instigating a conversation with them and more about letting the game come to me.” Those conversations occur around the dinner table and “in the car as we’re slamming down French fries going from one thing to another.”

On one of the latter occasions, his son spoke about a friend who’d been saying the church “is this destructive thing that does more harm than good. My son listened for a moment and said, ‘Yeah, they should probably be doing more positive things in the world.’ His friend said, ‘Yeah, I live over in the west part of town. There’s these people giving away free lunch.’ My son knew enough to lean in and say, ‘Yeah, a church runs that.’”

“Let’s talk about the church not being a monolith,” Buchanan said, “and it’s a lot of different things.”

“In our group of people, we do share meals together. I think it’s because there’s a group of us from the orbit of the church that are all single moms,” Marsh said. “Once a week someone will text everyone: ‘Do y’all want to come over for dinner at our house? That way, every other mom gets a break, and all the kids get to hang out together.”

“I recognize that is rare,” Marsh said. “This is the first time in my life I ever had something like that.”

At Buchanan’s house, some of his children’s friends were present so often that they, too, saw their growth spurts noted by marks on the wall. “Over 20 years, there’s like 50 marks on the wall from 30 or 40 different people,” Buchanan said. “A lot of those friends don’t go to church, but they know their kid’s friend’s parent is a pastor, and they seem OK.”

“There’s something about being that place where the friends of your kids feel like they can gather,” Thomas-Bush said. She then asked the guests: As children move from elementary school age to middle school and high school, “there are so many other voices. How do you both deal with that?”

“Meditate and pray,” Marsh suggested. “It can be stressful, especially when I feel like it’s all on me to be the voice of parenting in their life. I try to remember myself at that age and the ways in which my family structure was pretty heavy-handed in their desire to mold me into the person they wanted me to be, and remind myself, ‘They’re going to turn out OK.’”

“Especially for Gen Z, authenticity is such a huge value,” Buchanan said. “Young people can read if you’re being authentic or you’re giving them the party line.”

Buchanan recalled once giving a ride to his daughter and some of her male friends. “One of the guys started to say something with a toxic masculinity vibe,” Buchanan recalled. “My daughter turned to him and started to lay into him He stopped and said, ‘I know, I know — you’re a strong, independent woman.’ I was quietly in the front saying, ‘Yes!’”

When checking in with your children, Buchanan recommends “entering into their world and their interests so they know you’re meeting them there, instead of them saying, ‘OK, here’s where I get 20 questions.’”

In Marsh’s home, “I find the more complex it is to put the meal together,” — she offered up the example of gathering ingredients for tacos — “there tends to be a lot more interaction” among those preparing the meal.

Thomas-Bush thanked Buchanan and Marsh “for joining us at this table for some real conversation about parenting, about faith and about growing together. It’s good to be together.”

“May our tables be places where we pass on faith and build a real faith vocabulary,” Haddox said in his benediction, “and nourish a deep and abiding love with our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.”

Listen to other episodes of the “Around the Table” podcast here.

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