I will keep saying grace

Posted 4/7/21

My wife and I are both pastors. Our three young children put up a stink when it is time to say grace before meals.

Picture the five of us around the table, our food before us. Either she or I will …

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I will keep saying grace

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Posted

My wife and I are both pastors. Our three young children put up a stink when it is time to say grace before meals.

Picture the five of us around the table, our food before us. Either she or I will begin to offer words of gratitude and all three of them immediately start to complain. Sometimes they will even yell, “Stop!” It’s not like we pontificate in long-winded soliloquies full of $10 words. We just pray a simple two stanzas.

But our kids freak out!

I understand this is a power struggle. They do not decide whether or not to go to church on Easter. So, they push back when they can. I understand such differentiating from one’s caregivers is part of growing up.

I am also grateful that, throughout the day, they all say “thank you” without prompting. Their smiles are genuine and sweet. The other night before bed, the middle child whispered, “I think I have God and Mother Nature in my heart.” Now that’s saying grace!

But I’m not also going to stop saying grace before meals.

Most evenings, we say the same prayer I learned when I was a child — the Moravian Table Blessing. I come by it honestly. My father was a Moravian pastor as was his father before him. I don’t know if one or more of my children will enter the ministry.

Who knows what the church will be like in this country when they come of age?

A recent Gallup Poll found that in American houses of worship, attendance has dipped below 50% of the population. For the first time in eight decades, a majority of our citizens do not belong to either a mosque, synagogue or church.

On some level, we are witnessing a new generation differentiate from its elders. I will lament that the church, as an institution, has too often insisted that people perform the rituals — including the giving of tithes and offerings — without cultivating a larger sense of gratitude.

The Gallup Poll brought to mind my maternal grandfather. Granddad was what some call a “lapsed Catholic,” meaning he no longer darkened the church doors of his youth. When I was a boy visiting for a weekend, I liked that he and I could stay home and watch Sunday morning cartoons!

But grace was always said before meals. Granddad offered a prayer from his Roman Catholic upbringing that sounded like one long word:

BlessusOLordandtheseThygiftswhichweareabouttoreceivefromThybountythroughChristourLordAmen.

Now that I am an adult, it is significant to me that Granddad held onto the prayer of his childhood church.

My young children will go to church because I can make them. I outweigh them!

But I believe one attends a house of worship not under compulsion but to express gratitude. Whether named as God, Allah, Jesus, a Higher Power or the Universe, we are all indebted to forces beyond our ken. We have all “reaped where we have not sown” (John 4:38). Saying grace is about the recognition that the life-sustaining gifts of food before us did not magically appear on our doorstep by Amazon delivery, but required work at every step from farm to factory to grocery store.

If “thank you” were your only prayer, that would be enough.

Perhaps those of us concerned about the number of people not in houses of worship would be better off modeling such gratitude in our daily lives. Don’t actions speak louder than words?

Even now, I can see Granddad at the table, mumbled yet genuine grace on his lips. I trust that, one day, my children will add their Amens.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His forthcoming book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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