I’ve written before of that miraculous, wonderful creature known as The Church Lady. As I get further into my own career as a Church Lady, I’m starting to see some amazing benefits to my daughters as well, and I thought it was about time to write about how to build a Church Lady… because it really is a process, and it’s one I think can benefit most young people (not just girls).
Our middlest girl, the Spicy one, turned ten this year. She’s decided that, like her sister Eldest, it’s time for her to get to join me in serving at funeral suppers, and the other little tasks that seem to her to be hallmarks of Being Grown Up. The month of May marked her first experiences as a larval Church Lady… and what a happy little larva she is, too!
Watching her carefully choose her outfit for the first funeral luncheon (the funeral of one of our neighbors), watching her choose which pretty apron she would bring, folding it into a neat little bundle–I hoped that her experience would be a good one. I’m realistic. I can set up a situation to be as positive as possible, but it’s still going to be her experience, and that experience is between her little self and her Heavenly Father. I have to go into it all trusting that He loves her, and will give her the learning she needs, when she needs it. The First Funeral Luncheon and whatever learning it contained would have to be in His hands.
That trust was richly confirmed.
Our Church Lady In Charge is amazing. That helps a lot. Our fellow Church Ladies are generally awesome. That also helps a lot. They’ve each welcomed my girls into the fold as capital-S Sisters, and it is a joy and a blessing to me.
I quietly undertook my own assigned tasks for the luncheon, and did not interfere or direct Spicy in her work. She took her marching orders from our organizing Sister, who, being amazing, tucked Spicy under her wing and treated her with the same respect and friendliness given to the longest-serving Sister among us.
I was delighted when our organizing Sister reiterated what I had told Spicy on our way over: how to receive thanks from the family with a smile and “It’s our pleasure to serve. We’re glad to be here,” or “It’s no trouble at all. We love our Sister and want to help out any way we can,” or “We’re glad to do it.”
I watched Spicy ask intelligent questions. I watched her spring to lift things that the more fragile Sisters (one who is actually eye-to-eye with my none-too-tall 10yo!) should not lift. Her young legs and back were useful. I watched her take the instruction to “keep an eye on the water pitchers” to heart, as she zipped here and there, refilling pitchers and delivering them back with a smile and cheerful word.
I watched her visit with the Grandpas and Aunties and little children, as she made sure they had what they needed. I watched her clever little feet tip-tap briskly, carrying her from service to service, her muscled little body swathed in her best pretty apron.
I watched her take special care of our Sister who had lost her husband after an all-too-brief 66 years of marriage. I watched her seeing how love and tears and sadness and joy and grief and hope all work together.
As we wrapped it all up, I watched her eyes sparkle. I watched her watching the other Sisters as we all took off our aprons to signal the finality of our service, fold them into neat bundles, and disperse to our homes again.
And on the way home, she fairly bubbled over with happiness and observations and the recounting of her experience. The quote that made my day:
“I am going to need some good flats. I just cannot do funeral luncheons in these heels!”
I’m convinced that any young girl can benefit richly from these kinds of experiences. If anyone raising girls is wanting them to experience more connection, more compassion, more happiness, more self-respect, more cability–being built as a Junior Church Lady and serving alongside older sisters in Christ is a significant and simple way to get there.
If you’d like to build your own Church Lady, or are looking for ways to add connection and service for pre-teen or teen youth groups in a church setting, here are my top tips for making it work:
A True Invitation: I am 100% opposed to voluntelling. It’s a gross usurpation of agency, and quite frankly, it’s disrespectful and despicable.
A true invitation is low-key and sincere, and has a clear path to inclusion. There is no carrot-and-stick. It’s as simple as, “We are doing this cool thing, and we’d love to have you join us. Here’s how. Let me know if you’d like to, and we’ll make it happen.”
A True Mentor: partner them with adult Sisters who consider young people Actual People. Being tucked under the loving instructional wing of someone who likes you just for you, and has no genetic requirement to do so, is a wonderfully expanding thing for a young person. (It’s also pretty awesome for the adult Sister, too, if the ladies in my acquaintance are any representative sample. Spending time working together knits our hearts together, and that benefits young and old.)
These true mentors can be very helpful when they share their own motivations for service, and their own good experiences. I’ve noticed that the Church Ladies in my life have been ready, willing, and able to share with others *why* we serve, and that the reasons are varied and individual.
Having heard several Sisters visiting in the kitchen with Spicy about why they enjoy serving at funerals, I was delighted to hear her express her own personal motivation for service at the second funeral this month: “I don’t know this family, but I think every family should get some time to just be together, and tell stories that make them happy, even though it’s a sad time. And it’s fun to make sure everyone has what they need!”
Those are good reasons to serve. And she got there because adult women were able and willing to articulate similar reasons, and help her define the feelings she had bubbling in her tender little soul.
A True Need: no one likes to be made superfluous. Ask a young person to fulfill a meaningful task, and thank them for their help simply and sincerely and privately. Let them have the private pleasure of a job well done and truly appreciated.
The Uniform: You need the right clothes for the task. According to my Spicy child, and confirmed by the Ladies in the kitchen, the starter gear consists of Comfortable Flat Shoes, and a Pretty Apron. So you’ll need to provide those for your dear one.
(Blog rules say no single blog post should ever, ever be this long, and by the Rules, I should have about 40 cute pinnable pictures posted in here by now. Hence my tag line: Rebelling in Small Ways. Read on, MacDuff.)
Now, some practical application things if you’re trying to build some Church Ladies.
Be One Yourself. I think it does work best when Mom already has a habit of giving joyful service in ways that suit her time and her talents. If you’re not already there… well, it’s a great day to start. Pray about it. Find out what Heavenly Father wants you to do, personally, to be His hands and feet and love in the world. Then do that. And share words about it with your kids. Not bragging words, just… words. Let them know what you’re doing, and why, and that they can do it to, and how.
Do Some Lead-Up. Few people like to be thrown into something cold. So suggest some activities for the youth that introduce skills and concepts they can use in Church Lady service. Perhaps baking, or freezer meals, or other food-type skills they’ll use in college, mission, and adult life. Let them learn some basics together. These can be great additions to Personal Progress planning and activities. Then:
Have An Easy-Intro Service Opp. One simple thing I’ve done is to invite the young women to participate when I take around a sign-up sheet for New Baby meals. It takes only a few seconds to blurb it, and let them know they’re welcome to partner up and bake a treat for a meal, or work with their mom, auntie, grandma, or another Sister to help with a meal.
Let them know there are ways to ease into it, too. If they’re not up for food prep or service during the luncheon? They could come over and set up tables, or come after for take-down and sweeping. Those portions of service are vital, and still ripe with camaraderie.
Do Some Pre-Service Prep. Many young people have not been around much death, or around grieving rituals. Let them know what to expect, and some simple phrases to use in response to family thanking them, and that sort of thing. Do it all in conversational tones. This stuff is not scary. It’s just new. They can handle it.
Treat Them Like They’re Real People. And by Real People, I mean separate from their adult female relatives, and a complete person in their own right. Contact them directly, without passing messages through others. Ask for them by name, and treat them as a peer. It is thoroughly gorgeous what being treated as a valued peer by adult women does for a girl.
Teach Watch-Care At Home and Away. This starts when they’re little–teaching them to notice the needs of others, and consider how they might personally fill a need. Noticing and thanking them for the little acts of service they do is important, too. Maybe the wash cloths didn’t need to be re-folded, maybe you already have five dandelions-taped-to-paper, but they saw what they perceived as a need, and filled it with gladness, and did it to serve, so recognize it and accept it as love!
As they grow, this paying-attention-and-acting-in-love morphs into a kind of personal visiting pastoral care. Even without formal “route assignments”, young women can observe the needs of others and seek inspiration to fulfill them. Do what you can do make it possible for an observant girl to take a treat or card to a recovering friend, or to pop across the street to help a neighbor with something. Allowing them the freedom to act on their inspirations teaches them to hear God, and act on what He’s telling them. Their service will be different from yours. That’s cool. Rearrange what you can to make it possible. This stuff is important.
Trust God. The building of a Church Lady is not something we can control. It’s God’s process, and we need to relax and trust it! Don’t over-analyze another’s experience. Don’t ask a girl “HOW WAS IT? HUH? DID YOU LOVE IT??!!?” Give them space and time to process, and just let it be, trusting that their Father will use each situation to teach them what HE wants them to know. It is not within our power to control their experience. We can only set up favorable conditions, and step back and let them live it.
So, that’s how I was built to be a Church Lady. It’s working with my girls, and I’m so grateful. Give it a shot.