- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

Life wasn’t going so well for the Saylors. The couple had sold their house in Silver Spring and moved to Martha’s Vineyard, chasing the promise of a couple of good jobs. Those didn’t come through, however, so chef Martin Saylor and wife Angela, a registered nurse, found themselves back in Silver Spring, living in a two-bedroom bungalow with their three children, starting over.

“It was pretty hard-core,” Mr. Saylor says. “We came back not having anything. … They were pretty major odds. So I turned to Christ and the church.”

It was the Roman Catholic Church to which he turned, and now that faith is a cornerstone of their family life.

“There was kind of like a nagging within — come back to the church,” he says. “When I was brought up, my parents had it and it mattered. It gives a foundation, not just spiritually, but morally.”

Many Americans believe that religious participation and spiritually enhance family life, providing an unparalleled moral framework and a safe and supportive community. The pace of modern life and the responsibilities of raising children prompt many to turn to religion, putting in the time and effort needed to support their choice.

Mr. Saylor believes all that, and more.

“It brings the family together — we pray together,” he says. “But it’s not only spiritual. You kind of broaden your horizons as far as getting to know other people, which is positive. You support a lot of community projects. We want well-rounded kids who help others. That’s what it’s all about.”

Faith plays a starring role in the life of this nation. About 86 percent to 87 percent of Americans have some religious preference or identification, says Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. About 66 percent identify themselves as moderate to very active in their religious faith.

The level of participation in organized religion has remained relatively steady during the past 10 to 15 years, and probably for the past 30, Mr. Smith says. He notes an exception: a short-term uptick in church attendance after the devastation of September 11.

“But I’ve seen no data that 9/11 has had any lasting impact on religion in America,” he says.

But other life-changing events — marriage, for one — prompt Americans to revisit the issue of religion in their lives. Plenty of couples rekindle their faith when they turn to the church for a marriage-preparation course, says Nick Bagileo, director of the family life office at the Archdiocese of Washington, which serves more than 540,000 Catholics.

“I see it a lot,” he says. “Maybe a quarter of the couples. After they’re confirmed in eighth grade, sometimes people might drift away during high school and college.”

There’s also a bump in churchgoing when children come along in a marriage, says Don Browning, professor emeritus of religious ethics and the social sciences and director of the Religion, Culture and Family Project at the University of Chicago.

“I don’t think that’s too surprising,” he says. “Our research indicates that parents today trust the outside world less than their parents did. If you want to put your finger on why people return to church, it’s certainly because they feel they can’t raise their children by themselves. They’re trying to find a community that will support them in the process of raising their children in a relatively coherent world of values they affirm.”

That’s the way it has worked for the Saylors.

Mr. Saylor was brought up Methodist; Mrs. Saylor was raised Catholic. The children — ages 5, 7 and 9 — all were baptized in the Catholic Church, but the family had attended services sporadically, if at all, through the years.

Once the elder Saylors decided to become involved, Mr. Saylor committed to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the process by which people gradually become members of the Catholic Church.

It involved a difficult time commitment, Mr. Saylor says.

“I was going to classes every Sunday for three-and-a-half hours, for seven months,” he says. “Chefs don’t have a lot of time off. That was a lot of sacrifice because it took away from the family.”

Factoring in Sunday Mass was difficult for the children, Mr. Saylor says.

“Kids, they don’t want to go to church — they want to do what they want to do,” he says. “But someone told me once that a habit is broken by 21 times of repetition. You got to tell a kid 21 times. The more we go, the less resistance.”

Their efforts have paid off, tenfold, Mr. Saylor says.

“My wife is very happy. She keeps saying, ‘You know, Martin, you’ve changed.’ And you feel inside that you’re more at peace.”

The couple’s oldest son, John, is plagued by learning challenges and disabilities.

“The boy is a handful,” his father says. “Again, looking for support and help — the church has been there for us.”

John made his first Holy Communion in the fall.

“[The church] gives him a foundation and some peace,” Mr. Saylor says. “I can see a change in his behavior when we come out of Mass.”

Benefits

Organized religion can be very good for families, says Lisa Pearce, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She’s a co-investigator for the National Study of Youth & Religion, an ongoing project funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., a private philanthropic foundation, to gauge the influence of religion in the lives of teenagers.

Ms. Pearce points to three distinct benefits.

First, institutional support is available, such as family outings, parenting classes and youth groups. Some are directly related to family life, encouraging good marital and parent-child relationships.

Second, organized religion provides a setting or structure in which to learn morals and to develop an identity, she says. Religion is directly related to the ethnic or cultural background of many people, Ms. Pearce says.

Last, becoming involved in a religious community provides the opportunity to meet people, make friends and have the friendships among those who tend to nurture similar beliefs, she says.

“In a community where families are connected like this, there’s a high chance the children and parents will all be friends,” Ms. Pearce says. “Among children whose parents know their friends’ parents, the parents are sort of more aware — there’s almost more supervision.”

Ms. Pearce offers a cautionary message to parents, however, saying, “Religion can have benefits, but all the parties involved have to agree, and whether it’s the agreeing that religion is just not for them or agreeing that there’s a particular faith or religious community they enjoy, it’s a dimension to bond over and learn through.”

Learning has been the central theme in the Chornock household in Gaithersburg for the past several years. The family — father, Lenny; mother, Carol; and their four children ages 2 to 12 — gradually have been strengthening their commitment to Judaism.

The family’s metamorphosis from what Mr. Chornock calls “semireligious” to “conservadox” sprang from his chance meeting with a rabbi, who came as a patient into the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital emergency room in which Mr. Chornock works as a physician’s assistant.

This rabbi, Stephen Baars of Aish HaTorah of Washington, D.C., is now a cherished friend and mentor. Aish HaTorah is an international organization that focuses on promoting and preserving Judaism. The rabbi introduced the family to many of the traditions and customs of Orthodox Jews and inspired the elder Chornocks to make fundamental changes in their lives to accommodate these requirements.

The transition has been challenging, Mr. Chornock says.

“It’s just not easy to be Jewish,” he says. “It’s one of those religions that you really have to do something if you’re going to practice it the way it’s supposed to be practiced.”

In the fall, the couple pulled two of their children from public school and enrolled them — at considerable financial cost — in the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, an Orthodox school that is a 35-minute drive from their home. They have reworked their food shopping and preparation practices to more closely follow kosher laws.

Their mode of dress has become more traditional: Mr. Chornock wears a yarmulke, and his wife and daughters wear long dresses. Both Mr. Chornock and Mrs. Chornock, a registered nurse who teaches childbirth and lactation classes, usually decline to work on the Sabbath, and they spend the weekly observance with family and friends.

The changes have done the family good, Mr. Chornock says.

“The physical obligations make us realize the spirituality of everything,” he says. “It keeps us grounded in a way. It has allowed our children to feel with their hearts and let it lead them into decisions. They have gotten less materialistic in certain ways and have started to look outside themselves and see the good in other people. It has given us all a grounding pad — a calming front to face each day. I think they are getting some peace from the process, as well.”

That’s the plan, and it seems to work, says Delia Halverson — a Christian educator and author of “How Do Our Children Grow? Introducing Children to God, Jesus, the Bible, Prayer, Church” — from her home office outside Atlanta.

“Bringing children to institutions of faith should — I won’t say it will — but should help them to develop their relationship with God and other people in a very peaceful way,” she says. “It is not just by learning the Bible stories, but it’s learning a way of life that enriches us and makes the world a peaceable kingdom.”

Geoffrey and Dale Collins wanted to give their two children, ages 6 and 9, a spiritual and religious foundation, but the Upper Marlboro couple — he is a Baptist and she is a Catholic — spent several years sifting for a place to call their spiritual home, looking for a denomination to meet their individual and family needs.

Mr. Collins began attending the midweek devotional service at Metropolitan AME National Cathedral Church in Northwest Washington, near the office where he works as an assistant to the president of an AFL-CIO-affiliated national union.

“The spiritual message was inspiring and rejuvenating as delivered by the pastor, Reverend Ronald Braxton,” he says. “As a result, I suggested to Dale that we attend their Sunday services.”

He and Mrs. Collins, a special-education teacher, and the children recently became members of the congregation.

Sundays find them attending the 7:30 a.m. service there, followed by Sunday school for everyone.

It’s a big change, but a welcome one, Mr. Collins says.

“We haven’t had any difficulty getting the children back into the mind-set of going to church,” he says. “Certainly the family is tired, it’s the end of the week, but we eagerly look forward to participating in the service.”

The children understand that they need to learn about the teachings of God, Mr. Collins says.

“Dale and I believe it’s essential that our children learn the distinctions between what is right and wrong based on the Old and New Testaments, and to be able to apply what they learn,” he says.

“We want our children to know that there’s a greater source of power, strength and hope,” Mr. Collins says.

TIPS:

GET TO KNOW YOUR PLACE OF WORSHIP BETTER. VISIT THE PLACE AND TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE SERVICE. DECIDE ON A PLACE WHERE YOULL WANT TO SIT.

TALK ABOUT AND GET TO KNOW SOME OF THE LEADERS OF WORSHIP. YOUR CHILD PROBABLY KNOWS SOME OF THEM, BUT INTRODUCE OTHERS, SUCH AS USHERS, CHOIR MEMBERS AND MEMBERS OF THE WORSHIP COMMUNITY.

PRACTICE THE RESPONSES AND PRAYERS THAT YOU USE REGULARLY ON THE SABBATH. SPEND SOME TIME READING AND TALKING ABOUT THEM. SOMETIMES, WHEN A PRAYER IS LEARNED BY ROTE, WORDS ARE MISTAKEN.

PRACTICE WHISPERING AND EXPLAIN TO YOUR CHILD THAT HE CAN ASK QUESTIONS DURING THE WORSHIP SERVICE BUT THAT IN ORDER NOT TO DISTURB OTHERS, YOU WILL WHISPER.

THE NIGHT BEFORE A WORSHIP SERVICE, SEE THAT YOUR CHILD IS IN BED EARLY. IT IS AS IMPORTANT TO BE RESTED FOR WORSHIP AS IT IS FOR SCHOOL ON MONDAY. DECIDE ON CLOTHING AND LAY IT OUT THE NIGHT BEFORE.

ON THE MORNING OF A WORSHIP SERVICE, PLAN AMPLE TIME TO EAT A GOOD BREAKFAST AND PREPARE FOR CHURCH. A CHILD WITH A HUNGRY STOMACH IS NATURALLY RESTLESS.

SOURCE: “HOW DO OUR CHILDREN GROW? INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO GOD, JESUS, THE BIBLE, PRAYER, CHURCH,” BY DELIA HALVERSON.

MORE INFO:

BOOKS

“NURTURING FAITH IN FAMILIES: 425 CREATIVE IDEAS FOR FAMILY MINISTRY,” BY JOLENE L. ROEHLKEPARTAIN, ABINGDON PRESS, 2002. THE AUTHOR TELLS PARENTS HOW TO HARNESS CREATIVITY TO MAKE FAITH A CENTRAL PART OF FAMILY LIFE.

“HOW DO OUR CHILDREN GROW? INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO GOD, JESUS, THE BIBLE, PRAYER, CHURCH,” BY DELIA HALVERSON, CHALICE PRESS, 1999. THIS BOOK IS AN UPDATED RESOURCE OF SOLID, PRACTICAL ADVICE ABOUT WAYS TO INTRODUCE CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE TO LIVES OF FAITH.

ONLINE

SPIRITUAL HELP FOR FAMILIES (WWW.HOMEFAITH.COM)

HOMEFAITH.COM IS A SITE CONTAINING RESOURCES ON SUCH ISSUES AS FAMILY AND MEDIA, PARENTING IDEAS, SPIRITUALITY AND WEEKLY MEDITATION.

THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL IS CONDUCTING AN ONGOING PROJECT CALLED THE NATIONAL STUDY OF YOUTH & RELIGION, FUNDED BY LILLY ENDOWMENT INC., A PRIVATE PHILANTHROPIC FOUNDATION. THE WEB SITE (WWW.YOUTHANDRELIGION.ORG) HOLDS A COLLECTION OF RESEARCH RESOURCES FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN LEARNING ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS.

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