Spirituality in community
One of the most important elements for many parents is a feeling of an extended family. Raised Catholic, Valarie Woodard, of Littleton, CO, had stopped going to church after high school. She says that becoming pregnant with her son, Anthony, served as a wake-up call. She married Anthony's father when the baby was 8 months old, and joined a program for young mothers at the Foothills Bible Church soon after her first visit.
"I'm not sure what made me go that first time," she says. "I was scared to death." Woodard was afraid that she'd be judged harshly; instead, she felt welcomed. Now, she says, "If the other church members know your child is sick, they'll bring meals and call and say they're praying for you. I've had enormous amounts of support from them."
That sense of solidarity has spilled over into the Woodards' daily life. Woodard reads the Bible to her sons, Anthony, now 5, and Darin, 3, during their afternoon downtime, and her sons pray at bedtime. "It's finally starting to make sense to Anthony, what it means to pray," says Woodard. "He used to pray for his stuffed animals. Now he prays for the family, and the 3-year-old mimics him."
For Tina McKeever, of Menahga, MN, a sense of being involved with others has also made a difference. When she was pregnant with her first child, in 1993, McKeever "shopped around to see what I wanted." She was most attracted to a nearby Lutheran church, largely because of its strong community spirit.
The family's weekly churchgoing now takes place within a context of other activities, such as pitching in to help in the kitchen during church socials and teaching Sunday-school classes. Her two children, Alana, 6, and Marcus, 2, are involved in the church nursery and youth programs.
"I thought I didn't have anything to offer," says McKeever. "But then I said, 'Wait a minute, you can help in the nursery and the kitchen.' And once I realized that, I became more emotionally attached to the church."