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The Littlest Priest

by Tripp Hudgins

On Sunday, our congregation celebrated the life of St. Francis of Assisi with a blessing of the animals. Due to logistical constraints, people are encouraged to bring their pets at either the first or third service of the day and not the second. For the second service, small children are invited to bring a stuffed animal to represent their pets. As I am a bad parent, I somehow missed this liturgical nuance and we had nothing for our two-and-a-half year old to bring forward for a blessing.

But did he cry? Goodness, no! (The Gospel According to Pete The Cat)

Instead, our son walked up with the children who had stuffed animals, passed right by them, and stood with Liz+, our priest, and faced those who were being blessed. “Like a little priest,” I said. “Great. Just what we need.”

Those within earshot giggled and oo’d and ah’d appropriately. It was cute on all levels. I love that he’s comfortable enough at our church to stand by the priest. I love that she encourages such participation. We all do, really.

Still, I’ve been wondering if my knee-jerk sentimentality and humor do him any favors.

At his age, he’s just beginning to develop a sense of independent ego. He’s dealing with separation anxiety when he has to go to daycare or even when my wife leaves the room for a moment. He is as fragile as he is precocious. And it’s this fragility that has me wondering how best to encourage him to try on roles at church.

He’s a little blonde-haired white male child who is already comfortable with running the planet. His role models are male, female, cis-gendered, and non-binary. They are people of color. And yet, still he already runs to the head of the class.

As a middle-aged white guy who teaches at a seminary and participates in liturgical leadership in various ways, I have to ask myself how much of my own privilege I project onto him as well as how much of my own wrestling with white male privilege I project onto him.

The poor kid is a recipient of a great deal of my own wrestling. I struggle, as most parents do, to separate myself from him. His life is not my life. His mind is not my mind. And yet…

As someone who is ordained, training those who hope to be, and trying to work through the ramifications of our many social ills, I see his sweet friendship with his priest as the beginnings of some kind of test for the work we are all called to do.

Finding a way to respond to the promises of God’s grace is not easy work. We will all fail at it. Forgiveness is everything. Finding a way to not project my own fears and failures upon my son in this particular way surprised me.
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Tripp Hudgins is a preacher, chorister, cantor, picker, liturgiologist, ecumenist, writer of articles, ethnomusicologist (hon.), Ph.D. student, and grateful husband and father. Read more from him – about culture, music, theology, education, parenting – at http://anglobaptist.org.

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