"Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6, NIV)
By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
That Tuesday started like most of my days — packed to the brim with things to do. On this particular Tuesday, the Cabinet was assembled for the purpose of making appointments, and all indications seemed to predict eight hours of focused, concentrated energy.
We entered into a time of worship, as we always do, before we began our work. As always, I reminded everyone to silence cellphones so that complete attention was given to the devotional leader. Hymns and prayers set the tone for our time together, followed by a brief sermon.
Five minutes into the message, my cellphone began to vibrate, indicating an incoming text message. My first reaction was to ignore it; my phone seems to ring constantly.
But this time — and I don’t know why — something urged me to pick it up and see who was sending the text. I looked at the little screen, expecting to see a name, a number, and a brief message.
To my utter amazement, I saw a tiny face, the beautiful image of my first grandchild, who had just been born!
I had known the time of birth was drawing near. But right then? At that moment?
I wanted to shout, but we were in worship. I wanted to rush from the room, but fearing everyone would think something was terribly wrong with me, I dared not move.
The only thing I could do was sit and weep, a helpless grandfather experiencing a feeling I never before had felt!
Tears of joy ran down my face, and the district superintendent beside me passed tissues, not fully understanding my dilemma. My body turned to jelly. It took all my resolve to contain myself until the end of the devotion.
I’ve heard the stories of what it’s like to become a grandparent for the first time. But all I’ve heard did not prepare me for that moment.
My very first thought was one of thanksgiving to God for that wonderful gift of life. My second thought was of my son, Robert Hayes III, and daughter in-law, Michelle, proud parents undoubtedly overjoyed with the arrival of Reagan Elizabeth. I thought of my parents, Robert and Dorothy, who already have gone to be with our Lord but who, I’m sure, were watching over all. Then my thoughts focused on making sure this child will be nurtured, supported, and loved inside a Christian home.
My mind raced ahead to the day I will stand before her parents and present her for baptism, initiating her into Christ’s holy church as I sprinkle water over her tiny head.
I imagined seeing her in confirmation class, eagerly soaking up what it means to be a disciple of Jesus as she prepares to be received into the church. I envisioned her with other youths on mission trips, learning what servant ministry is amid reaching out to people in near and faraway places.
My desire is to do for her what my parents did for me! My father and mother instilled in me a deep faith and an abiding love for God and for Christ. In turn, I did my best to convey that to my children. Now, I’m focused on doing the same for Reagan.
In one setting or another, you and I have vowed to God to "nurture our children in Christ’s holy church, that by our teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life." At one time or another, entire congregations have pledged to "nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include those [persons being baptized] now before us in our care." (Baptismal Covenant, United Methodist Hymnal)
Go and revisit those promises made when you, your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were incorporated into the church. Take seriously the task that awaits us for all God’s children — whether they are ours by birthright or not!
A few days have passed since that memorable day in the Cabinet Room. I now realize that I have an obligation to attend to faithfully, and I have a responsibility to a precious child who will engage me happily for the rest of my life!
And I’m still shaking like a bowl of Jell-O!