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'Home-Churching' Grows as Option

Learning: Leery of relying on organized religion alone, some parents instill beliefs mostly in the house.


Scott Cooper believes his kids' faith cannot grow by church alone. So he "home-churches" them.

Cooper, author of "God at the Kitchen Table" (Three Rivers Press, 2002), says parents must take the initiative when it comes to instilling faith and values in their children.

If you rely strictly on organized religion, he said, "Kids start to see religion as separate from everyday living."

Every other week or so, Cooper's family worships with a congregation that's affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the religious community of Cooper's childhood in Northern California.

The rest of the time, the Coopers travel no farther than their family room to read stories, offer prayers and otherwise worship God.

It started about 10 years ago, he said.

"You realize you need to teach your children some things about religion and morality," said Cooper, whose children are ages 16, 13 and 10. "If you're not 100% comfortable with organized religion ... you still need to find a way to pass on your beliefs."

Cooper said he and his wife started their "home church" by gathering for prayer and reading from time to time.

Today, such meetings still include prayer and reading--with texts running the gamut from the Bible to Sports Illustrated. Cooper said his family typically tries to keep the Sabbath holy by abstaining from commercial activities such as shopping and going to movies.

"It does take some discipline," he said. "I think it's like most anything with your children: You need to make a commitment to their training."

In "God at the Kitchen Table: Teaching Your Religious and Moral Beliefs to Your Children," Cooper offers dozens of suggestions for parents interested in creating their own home churches. Though he thinks it's important to set aside time to discuss religious topics, Cooper acknowledges that some of the most spiritual conversations may occur anywhere, any time.

"The most effective things we seem to do are much less formal: having conversations with our kids around the kitchen table about God, life and happiness; maintaining mundane family rules that reinforce basic concepts of right and wrong; asking our kids to complete chores and other tasks that help them develop internal [spiritual] discipline; having them help neighbors or friends in need; and trying to maintain a home environment where they can feel a sense of emotional support and refuge," Cooper writes.

"Ultimately, as we all end up figuring out while we travel through this mysterious experience called parenthood, simply loving our children and providing them with good examples and occasional firmness are much more critical to their positive development than any formal religious or moral training."

For Janice Morrow, opportunity came in the form of a passing ambulance. One day while driving around Mobile, Ala., with her children, ages 8 and 5, Morrow said she felt moved to pray for a victim and the people helping him or her in an ambulance as it sped by. So she and her children said a simple prayer, she said.

Now, almost every time she and her children see an ambulance, she said, 5-year-old Mary Catherine pipes up: "Mama, we need to pray."

Some of their petitions are more planned.

Before they leave the house in the morning, Morrow said, she and her children join together to pray. The kids take turns, she said, often thanking God for family members--including their dog. During recent months, Morrow said, her daughter has been praying for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Despina Koulianos, a member of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Mobile, said she uses prayers to incorporate spirituality into the daily lives of her two young children.

Such supplications, as well as keeping such Orthodox traditions as fasting and eating particular foods, help "make God [come] alive in the routine of our daily lives," Koulianos said.

Meals--particularly those at the beginning of the Sabbath--can provide instruction and inspiration for Jewish children, said Rabbi Donald Kunstadt of Mobile's Springhill Avenue Temple.

"Judaism is organized around the Shabbat, and the Shabbat has some essential home ceremonies which have a great deal of importance, especially for the children," Kunstadt said.

"Blessing the Sabbath candles, blessing the wine and bread during the Sabbath meal, grace after the meal--all those traditions, when they're celebrated by the family, have a lasting impression upon the children."

Indeed, Kunstadt said he believes the religious observances that take place in homes are more important to children than those that occur in a synagogue.

"They see the deep commitment of the parents to their faith," Kunstadt said. "What's done as a community doesn't necessarily show the same commitment from the parents. It's what you do that matters, and not what you say. The kids see, through the doing, what the real commitment is."

Denise Melendez of nearby Daphne said she tries to incorporate biblical lessons into her three children's activities.

For example, after her 7-year-old daughter learned about the goodness of God's creation in her Sunday school class at Daphne United Methodist Church, Melendez planted flowers with her.

"Somebody's going to teach your kids something," she said. "It might as well be us."

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