Ask someone what they think church means or what you do at church, you’ll get a variety of answers.

My daughter uses sign language to communicate. We’ve taught her certain words to sign. My husband and I are both pastors. We live across the street from the church. Church comes up a lot in conversation and is a primary place we spend our time.

Somehow, at 2½, my daughter uses her own signs for what church means and what we do when we go to church. As a pastor and a mom, I’m quite proud to see what church means to her already. I think her understanding provides a good lesson for all of us about what it means to be the church.

If you would ask my daughter, “What is the church?” you would see her sign three things:

Hands folded together in prayer

Yes, we go to church to pray. We put our hands together to offer our thanks, our fears, our hopes, our doubts, our joys and our lives to God. We pray for one another. We pray for ourselves. We pray for the world. My daughter knows that the people who go to church are people who pray. My daughter is learning that it’s our job to pray without ceasing.

Sign of the cross on the forehead

As she’s only 2½, it’s more like a quick swipe of her finger on her forehead, but the meaning is there. We go to church to bless one another and to be blessed. Each night either my husband or I will mark the sign of the cross on our daughter to remind her that she is a beloved child of God. Each night we ask her to mark that same cross on us. She knows that to bless is to be a force of goodness and healing and hope in the world. She knows that blessing is the work of God’s people.

Shaking hands

We go to church to share the peace. No matter when our daughter hears the word, “Peace,” she’ll grab your hand to shake and share a sign of peace. We do it week after week at church, offering our hands in peace. Offering our hearts in peace. Offering our forgiveness. Offering our love. And sometimes my daughter will be shy or fussy or stubborn and she’ll hide her head during the sharing of the peace. But others are there to offer that peace to her. The church is a place where peace is freely given.

This is church. This is what it means to be a people of God. This is what it means to follow Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we are called to pray for one another, to bless one another and to share peace with others. It’s not easy work, but it’s work that begins with each of us and can begin with the youngest among us.

Kimberly Knowle-Zeller
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Mo. Her website is kimberlyknowlezeller.com.

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