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What does it mean to live as a family in mission? For many families who engage in cross-cultural mission, this question is thrown into sharp relief by the contrast between lifestyles, expectations, and values. But for families in mission in a North American context, this question is no less pressing. What have these families learned about proclaiming the Gospel? And how can God’s family — the church — be enriched by these insights? The Anabaptist Witness blog will be exploring these questions over the coming weeks, in our Families in Mission blog series. The inaugural blog post in this series comes to us from Martin Rhodes, Discipleship Ministries Coach at Virginia Mennonite Missions in Harrisonburg, VA. 

“It’s time to light the candle.” Our son’s voice carries through the house announcing that the time has come to gather.  And from the four corners of the house, our 3 children come running toward the threshold into the presence of God.  My wife and I, still at the breakfast table enjoying our morning coffee and conversation, rise and join our children who are now gathered around a stool, upon which sits a crucifix candle holder and a lit candle.  We each place our left hand upon the shou lder of the family member to our left and right hand over heart and begin in unison: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name….”

This is the ritual that we have affectionately named our family’s “pledge of allegiance.”  The naming is intentional.  After our children blow out the prayer candle on the threshold and depart the house for school, they will again be summoned to rise and pledge allegiance.  In public school classrooms across the United States, the morning ritual takes place that reifies the place of the State as the locus of authority and the entity worthy of obedience and honor.  Our children will respectfully stand, but they will not speak or pledge honor; that has already taken place in a primary ritual which defines their lives and our commitments as a family.

In his book You Are What You Love,  James K. A. Smith elucidates how habits and rituals shape our loves.  Our affections are shaped toward those practices that we return to time and again throughout the course of our day.  Often this shaping happens without our knowledge as we participate in the many rituals that determine the content of our days.  Given this reality, it is important that those of us who claim the Kingdom of God as the paramount reality that defines our lives and commitments be circumspect regarding the rituals that we assent to participate in, as these rituals shape us in indelible ways.  In order for our lives to take a cruciform shape, we must orient our lives around rituals (habits and practices) that point toward God as the creator and sustainer of our lives and the world. 

For our family, this orientation is essential to what it means to be a family on mission.  If our family practices are tuned to the reality that our Father is ever present and ever inviting us into deeper relationship, then our lives cannot help but  be missional as we live into and out of the reality that we are the beloved of God and owe all that we are to God. Having been rooted in the mindful practice of giving ourselves to God at the beginning of the day before we scatter, we are better prepared to live as witnesses.

As we work and inhabit the public spaces throughout our city, our hope and desire is to be a witness to the reign of God that restores the broken, brings hope to the hopeless, and lifts up those who are bowed down.  Often we ourselves are in need of this hope; desperate to be reminded that daily bread will be given no matter how undernourished we feel. Being a family on mission also means being in this Kingdom work together; being intertwined in our prayer of hope that orients us for the day.

“For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever amen.”  With these words our pledge is complete and we now turn toward one another.  As the circle begins to break up, we bless each other for the day.  I bow my head toward my seven year old daughter as she places her hand upon my head.  “Blessings on your day, Daddy.”  Indeed and Amen.