Reformed Christians excel at scheduling Reformation conferences for adults, but—honestly—they’re a bit weak on family celebrations. Their biblical perspective on God’s covenantal dealings with His people ought to place Reformed Christians on the forefront of family centered celebrations. West Sayville Reformed Bible Church on New York’s Long Island is making an effort.
For the last two years, the URCNA congregation has held a unique family Sunday school class for all ages following the morning worship service on the Sunday closest to Reformation Day. The church gives each family a copy of a Reformation-related book for children and Rev. Andrew D. Eenigenburg reads the book while congregants follow along.
“This way everyone gets to see the artwork clearly as we move through the book,” he explains. “The book is a great starting point for questions from our young people and adults. We had a great question and answer session that began with the theme of the book, but quickly branched out to answer questions about a broad variety of topics concerning the significance of the Reformation and its effect on our worship today. Many questions came from adults whose first exposure to the Reformation has been through our church (and this event in particular).”
This year’s book was The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism by William Boekestein, illustrated by Evan Hughes. Last year’s reading featured Courage Under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres by the same author and illustrator. The two plan a third book about the Canons of Dort to complete the trilogy of children’s books on the Three Forms of Unity.
Each year West Sayville Reformed Bible Church distributed about 30 copies of the Reformation-related book, mostly to congregational families. But the church also sent some to neighborhood children who have attended its VBS program or to extended family of church members.
During the morning worship service this year, the choir sang a medley of Reformation hymns coordinated by the director and a talented young musician. Instrumental pieces related to the Reformation theme were also part of a service that focused on the need for lasting comfort.
As Rev. Eenigenburg read Rev. Boekestein’s The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism, he occasionally paused for explanatory comments.
“We want to challenge and instruct the entire congregation by aiming first for the children,” he says. “The book is a great opportunity to open a discussion on the spiritual heritage of the church, and to connect our people to their rich heritage.”
This year’s celebration built on last year’s. “Although the core of our plan is the same, we are always reforming,” says Rev. Eenigenburg. “I hope that each year we will get a little more focused and increase our preparations to include something new.”
He says, “We want to focus on celebrating what we love instead of lamenting what we’ve lost.”
Rev. Eenigenburg explains that celebrating the Reformation with families tackles several worthy goals: “First, we want all ages, young and old, to cherish the centuries-old story of their Reformed heritage. How will our people know the value of the Reformation unless we slow down and teach it to them? Second, we want the Reformed to stop complaining and sighing about the empty worldly practices that come along with Halloween, and develop their own meaningful and truly joyful celebrations as a positive alternative. We actually have something worth celebrating! As a kid I always wondered…If the Reformation is so joyful, WHERE IS THE CANDY TO PROVE IT?”
Recognizing that element in children’s minds, the celebration includes handing out bags of treats and other small prizes to children.
Rev. Eenigenburg explains that plans are in the works for future celebrations.
“We are hoping to develop our practices into a full-blown weekend celebration to which we can invite the community. We’re just scratching the surface. The most important thing to me is giving people a chance to ask their questions about the Reformation and get some answers. Rev. Boekestein has provided a great opportunity to help our adults reach out to their children, and learn a lot about their faith heritage in the process.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the December 7, 2011 issue of Christian Renewal.