Keeping your religion while single-handedly getting small children ready for Sunday school can be a challenge. I know because several years ago, while my wife was out of town, I struggled to get my kids dressed while simultaneously answering a call from the Texas hospital where I worked.

“Chaplain, we need you in the ER.” Emergency room nurses know many colorful combinations of language, but I wasn’t prepared for what I heard next.

“Please, it’s a bad one.”

The last sentence was redundant. ER nurses don’t use the “P” word unless it is bad. A call to a neighbor found haven for my children, and a few minutes late,r I walked into the ER to hear the wails of family members.

My first thought was that it looked like an entire church was assembled in the waiting room. There were suits and scarves; hats and handkerchiefs; Bibles and bulletins. Only the pews and preacher were missing.

A triage nurse whisked me past the peripheral congregants and directed me to the designated grieving room. She whispered the score: “Drunken Driver 1, Kid 0.”

Inside the room, I introduced myself, and the crowd parted enough to allow me access to a small, seemingly unbroken figure of a 9-year-old boy.

I distinctly remember thinking: Here is a little boy whose body was absent of the very thing that defines little boys — movement and energy. Little boys are supposed to be wiggly and squirmy? After all, aren’t they made of “snails and puppy dog tails?”

This was probably a boy whose life had been spent in everything but a stationary position. He had moved, yearned and inspired.

“He won’t ever preach again,” his uncle muttered.

“Preach?” I said.

“Oh, yes,” he said, and went on to tell me how the boy spent countless hours playing church until his mom finally persuaded their pastor to let the boy preach at only 6 years old.

Child preachers were a part of this family’s religious tradition, one that didn’t squelch the religious interests of children. Children were a part of worship. They were more than just seen; they were heard by all congregants.

I imagine some would find fault with a system that placed religious expectations on this boy’s life. But the critics would be compelled to acknowledge there are those who wait all their lives to find their calling, while this little boy knew his calling and expressed it until his last breath.
And after that last breath, the little preacher continued to inspire the faithful to worship, as the congregation remained after my prayer to sing “just one more song.”

After excusing myself to pick up my children, I thought about my earlier efforts to practically drag my kids to church, while this little preacher was somehow able to drag an entire church family behind him.

I realized that in my anxiousness to get to church that day, I almost missed the joy of seeing the church do the work for which it is called. It may take a village to raise a child, but this was a day when I witnessed a child single-handedly raise the standards of a village.