I rock the babies.” That is how Vivian Hughes introduced herself years ago at a church conference. It was so long ago I don’t remember the topic of discussion, but it was important enough that many members of our Baptist church got up to speak. For Miss Vivian, the babies of the church were her personal ministry and baby rocker was her identity in the body of Christ. She rocked my first baby, and I can attest to her skill at it.
By the time my daughter was two years old, we were living in a new city and a new crop of baby rockers had taken Miss Vivian’s place. One lovely couple, Harvey and Mary Jane Hyatt, had been staples of the nursery ministry for decades. In their late-seventies by the time I met them, Mr. Harvey and Miss Mary Jane never had children of their own, but they were spiritual parents to the generations of babies they rocked in the nursery over the years. Mary Jane took care of the older babies, and Harvey taught the two-year-old Sunday school class. I can attest to their skill at it.
That year our church had a Fall Festival where the kids dressed up in costumes and played carnival games in the gym.
It was an extravaganza of music, decorations, and kids running wild showing off their costumes. And the games. So many games. To my toddler, it was completely overwhelming, at least until she found her refuge, Mr. Harvey. She crawled up in his lap and spent an hour watching the goings-on.
Mr. Harvey’s and Miss Vivian’s calling in the church nursery is to give our children their first church experience of the love of Jesus. The children sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” but it is Mr. Harvey who gives them a hug and tells them how happy he is to see them each Sunday. He models God’s love for them. They are not old enough to understand the deep theology of the Christian faith, but they know church is a place where grownups love them and God does too. The baby rockers teach ecclesiology 101.
This love builds a strong foundation for children as they grow into youth and the issues they face get bigger. They have been rocked into an understanding of what the church can be for them no matter their age—a place where they are loved and accepted, a tangible evidence of the love of Christ, a safe harbor in a storm.
Cover image by Andae Ricketts.
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