Today I rode on a school bus for the first time since the late 1980s. Sure, I’ve been on other buses, but not a true school bus. Today I chaperoned a Middle School chorus trip so I rode on an actual county school bus with actual school kids. Because our middle school draws kids from several county elementary schools, some likely live fairly far away from the school. In other words, when we took the “back road” from the Middle School toward a high school in the West End of Richmond, many kids weren’t familiar with the route. Of course, these are middle school students. They aren’t driving yet, so they may not know as many landmarks as those of us who drive.
It was fun to listen to their conversations. I didn’t know a single child on the bus I was assigned to, so I had no preconceived notions. There were three girls squeezed into one seat singing songs from the musical Hamilton. There were two girls swapping friendly stories about classmates. There were a number of kids expressing anxiety about the chorus competition where we were headed. “What would it be like? How strict are the judges? I heard you have to stay perfectly still and perfectly quiet or you’ll get a bad score.”
The angst conversations were the ones that grew and spread around the bus. The Hamilton songs faded and the funny stories stopped. “What if we get a bad score, what will our teacher say? What if the sight reading is really hard? Where are we going anyway, what is the school like?” One student had been there before. “It’s huge,” she said, “and it’s really nice. It’s the rich kids’ school. It’s way better than ours.”
Ugh. I felt the weight of that statement: The hierarchal view of the world where all that is new and nice seems superior and all those who enjoy what’s new and nice seem superior too. Suddenly the busload of students seemed lost, uncertain, scared. Then one student who was looking out of the window shouted with confidence, “I know where we are! There’s the church. When I see the church, I know where I am!”
She wasn’t speaking theologically, she simply meant that on this long, windy rural road, there aren’t a lot of unique landmarks. Cow pasture A looks a lot like Cow pasture B. Pond A looks a lot like Ponds B through J. But when you see Forest Grove United Methodist Church, you know where you are. It’s a true landmark in Western Hanover County, Virginia.
No, she wasn’t speaking theologically, but her confidence and excitement about knowing where the bus was located and which direction we were headed in was contagious. The other students stopped naming their fears and instead asked questions. “How big is the auditorium? Do you think we are ready? How many other schools will be there?”
She wasn’t speaking theologically, but I was listening theologically. The church should be a beacon in our communities that helps us know who we are and where we are. It should root and anchor us and prepare us to be better community members and neighbors. It should take away our fears and give us confidence to ask questions and to move forward. “When I see the church, I know where I am!”
“We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God who has created and is creating…We are called to be the Church.” And what does it mean to be the Church? “…To celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. (Yes, that’s from Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada.) Church… that’s how we do it, that’s how we “be” it.
Whether we are navigating the sometimes scary, often painful journey of dementia beside a loved one… or stumbling along a path of discerning denominational identity and hoping for a way forward… sometimes I feel like a middle schooler on a school bus. I don’t where the heck I’m going. Someone else is at the wheel, and I have no choice but to be along for the ride. The whole thing makes me a bit nauseous. I don’t recognize the scenery, and I’m scared about what waits for me when I arrive. But thankfully, I see the Church along the way. I see it in the steeple I drive past. I see it in my brothers and sisters I pass on campus or in the local grocery store. I see it online in the words shared by friends and colleagues. And when I see the Church, I see Christ and I know where I am. May we all be clear about our call, may we be the Church for one another and for our broken world so that we all can know where we are and where we need to go.
2 thoughts on “A View from a School Bus”
Such a boost to read the blog post today. I especially resonated with, “I see it in my brothers and sisters I pass on campus or in the local grocery store. I see it online in the words shared by friends and colleagues. And when I see the Church, I see Christ and I know where I am.”
Amen! Love it as a focus for today and every day.
Kendra, you have your eye on the prize. Thank you for your beautiful, meaningful words and for sharing so generously.
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