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Outsourcing and children

Outsourcing and children

by Patrick Hall

Outsourcing is a recurring topic every election season. Pundits and candidates for office score political points by pounding podiums and particleboard newsroom desks while belching vacuous indignation over the flight of American jobs to overseas markets. Yet, even as we ride the bump of righteous anger, we keep the focus narrow. Corporates, profiteers, fat cats – they are the outsourcers and we the deprived. We never allow the conversation to wander past the tropes of villainy that make glorious fodder for the televised drama of our political life. I suspect this intense focus is a subconscious reaction to a truth we all intuit, but would prefer not to acknowledge: we are ALL outsourcers.

We all delegate our daily problems to paid professional experts rather than muddle through, relying on our own wisdom and resources. The most tragic casualty of our rampant outsourcing is the vocation of parenthood. For a variety of reasons, some systemic and some cultural, mothers and fathers expect more from the people who care for their children than ever before. This parental outsourcing has become especially pronounced among the middle and upper middle class people who make up the bulk of the Episcopal Church. Episcopal parishes that provide Christian community for children and young families find themselves under constant pressure to accommodate demand-y parents who expect the Church to meet all their children’s religious needs with an hour of program on Sunday, and perhaps a couple more during the week.

The most egregious parental outsourcers are the Starbucks™ parents, who apparently frequent every parish everywhere, and commit the fatal sin of depositing their toddling issuance at the foot of some well-meaning Sunday school teacher whose name they don’t know so that they can zip around the block and indulge their seasonal addiction to pumpkin spice lattes (which I sort of totally understand because they taste REALLY REALLY good).

Among church-ers nationwide, Starbucks parents have become a symbol for the religious outsourcing that is putting such pressure on our Christian communities in a variety of ways that go far beyond our Sunday schools. Naturally there is much venting and grousing about Starbucks parents at staff meetings and curriculum planning sessions. Most biting is the sense that these parents have no genuine interest in actually participating in the Spiritual life of our communities. They view the Church as a service-provider whose task is to inculcate “good values” in their children, and nothing more. The Starbucks parents and their unrepentant outsourcing remind us that the Church finds itself in a hostile cultural environment, where the obstacles to genuine Christian Spiritual formation are proliferate and complicated.

But, taking a lesson from the vapidity and stuckness of our national political discourse, it would be prudent for us to make this conversation more than a bitchfest on the small-time villainy of religious outsourcers and Starbucks parents. These people incarnate an urgent challenge facing the Church in post-Christendom: How do we strike a proper balance between an evangelical welcome to all comers, and a passionate fidelity to our increasingly foreign Christian identity? The best answers to this question will be rooted in the Scriptural narrative and a THEOLOGICAL vision of Christian community – not some ridiculous “BULLETPOINTS FOR GETTING THE STARBUCKS PARENTS” that fits on a tacky power-point slide.

The Rev’d Patrick Hall is the Episcopal Missioner to Rice University in Houston, TX. He enjoys making ridiculous and obscure statements on twitter that arouse bafflement and consternation among his followers.


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Linda Grenz

‘Alan, I think there are a lot of parishes out there where the Adult Ed. pickings are pretty slim.”

So….maybe we could send a few parishioners down to Starbucks to sit, talk, build community and maybe even begin to share faith stories! Meet people where they are and go from there instead of trying to make them fit into our mold. I keep reminding people that Sunday Schools were only invented in the 1880’s — we did faith formation for almost 2000 years before that without this particular mode of doing it. So we could get creative and think outside of that box. Those parents are signaling that we need to connect with them in a different way. I’d start with going to Starbucks with them.

Delia Halverson

I began reading this because of the title. I see outsourcing our children as the lack of knowledge that parents have about just how to share their faith with their children. They expect the one hour a week (minus the weeks of vacation or other times when it’s inconvenient) to teach their children about the Christian faith. When you compare the hours required for public education and what we have available for Christian education, we fall very short. Yet parents will expect the church to teach the Bible, how to act in a Christian manner, how to get along with others, how to pray, church history, and more. As I’ve worked with parents across the years I’ve come to realize that what they really want is for their children to have a sound realtionship with God (which is what I relate to as “faith” – my beliefs change as my faith grows). But parents feel very inadequate. When I first realized this I found no book that I could recommend to parents that wasn’t like a seminary text book or that told the parent, “If your child asks this, you may say that.” I do not believe I, nor anyone else, should put words into a parent’s mouth about their own faith. The parent needs to learn how to share his or her relationship with God in their own words. Consequently I wrote a book that has been revised and now goes under the title: HOW DO OUR CHILDREN GROW? It has a study guide in the back that would be good for churches that want to have a “Starbucks” parents’ class.

I was glad to read Grace Burson’s comments about planning times when parents and children could work with learning together. As I’ve consulted with churches across the nation I’ve had requests for help with this, and so the book SIDE BY SIDE: FAMILIES LEARNING AND LIVING THE FAITH TOGETHER. This book has family-oriented events that can be done on Sunday mornings or on an evening, as well as a mini-retreat. They cover subjects such as worship, the sacraments, prayer, and seasonal times.

I’ve also developed a “Young Reader’s Bulletin” that is different from the children’s bulletins you can purchase because you set it up according to your adult bulletin but explain what’s going on in every part of the service and give suggestions for children to write or draw their thoughts during those specific times. It’s in several of my books. For more information on my books check out my web site or contact me:

Delia Halverson

Bill Dilworth

Alan, I think there are a lot of parishes out there where the Adult Ed. pickings are pretty slim.

Ann Fontaine

Grace – your mother radicalized many of us with her work.

Grace Burson

When I was the (lay) youth minister at a very affluent parish, I was sometimes tempted to post a sign on the youth room door: “Beware. Bringing your children here may result in their becoming Christians.”

Now, as the rector of a small parish in a New England college town, possibly the single thing that I devote the MOST energy to is building Christian community among the young families of the parish by gathering twice a month on a weeknight for storytelling, activities, dinner, and worship. It’s not terribly restful for the parents, but God bless them, they show up. And bring their friends. And for at least one family, it IS the avenue that allows them to be part of the parish, because Dad isn’t involved in church and Mom doesn’t feel like coming to Sunday morning and wrangling a 3-year-old and 5-year-old in the pew. And I baptized those kids last month.

I cannot even begin to comprehend the mindset of clergy who say they want to grow their churches or attract young families, and then ignore or dismiss those same families. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that my mother is Gretchen Wolff Pritchard, and I was radicalized regarding Christian formation at about the age of 7. 🙂

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