Riddle: What’s furry, 30 years old, and sits on a shelf above my writing desk observing every word I type?
I’ll give you a really big hint.
If you happened to be part of Portage Alliance Church between 1983 and 1988, you may remember a rather large but harmless rodent named Charlie Churchmouse. He spoke with a Texas drawl and started every conversation with “Howdy there, Buckaroos.”
Charlie is a hand puppet fashioned under my sewing machine and brought to life on my right hand. He used to interact with kids and adults alike, mostly on Sunday evenings when it was safest for church mice to be out and about. In his retirement, he perches on a weighted jar and remains silent except for rare occasions when he decides to chat with my grandsons. He’s still pretty cute, for a 30-year old mouse.
With 130 children on any given Sunday, there are now more volunteers serving in my church’s children’s ministry than there were people in the entire congregation 30 years ago. I am thankful for and proud of these folks who give their time and energy to build into the next generation.
I wonder how challenging it would be to entertain a roomful of today’s children with one homemade hand puppet. Kids are constantly exposed to a barrage of digital moving images, sound effects, and interactive everything. The books I read to my grandsons at their house are never merely books. Each page includes something to hear or to pull or push or feel or smell. I don’t envy today’s teachers—whether at school, church, or elsewhere—who need to compete with all the distracting gadgetry. I suppose much of it serves as useful resources as well. I hope so.
Recently, I heard the leader of PAC Kids’ ministry coaching his volunteers on a Sunday morning before the children arrived. He reminded them their curriculum is only a tool, not something to get through at any cost. If a child returns home able to name one thing he or she learned and saying “I had fun,” the hour together was a success. The most important thing is the relationships built, so kids receive loving and wise guidance from a trusted friend.
And it occurred to me that relationships are best built with no gadgets at all.
Carl Jung said, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
As we end another school and church ministry year, I want to say thank you to teachers everywhere. After parenting, yours is the most important job in the universe. If you are one who truly loves and cares about the children in your charge, you not only deserve the summer off, you need it. May the next two months refresh and reenergize you. And if, like Charlie Churchmouse, your tenure is over—congratulations!
I love something Andy Rooney once said: “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”
But don’t put away your hand puppets just yet.