by Mary Johnson, Director of Children's Ministries & All Things Bright & Beautiful

There is a centuries old query: how to build strong moral character in our children. Because children are born with unique characteristics, needs, and gifts, the answer may be very different from one child to the next. Some children just naturally find it easy to share. Some are far more empathetic than their peers at an early age. There is the child who feels terrible when caught in a lie and another who hasn't the slightest twinge of guilt. So with all the variables in place, how can a parent level the playing field so every child has the opportunity to build strong moral character?

It has to start in the home. The old adage of "lead by example" is never truer. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Coles states that parents are the single most important source of moral instruction in their child's life. If a parent is espousing all sorts of advice about how a child should behave, but does not model the expected behavior, it doesn't matter. If a clerk at a store gives back too much change, do you give it back? When you find the bag of items in the cart in the parking lot, does it get returned to the store or does it go in the car? And then there is the very real and poignant example from our Kindergarten student, Will.

He found $10.00 walking to school. Can you imagine? TEN DOLLARS and no one around to claim it! When sharing his good fortune with his parents, his dad asked Will if he thought it really belonged to him. Well, he did find it. But when asked a couple of different ways, Will's conclusion was that it really didn't belong to him. Notes posted around the neighborhood didn't identify the owner of the lost $10 bill. So Will's decision (with wonderful guidance from his father) was to give it to the church.

On the day Will arrived with the found money, he wanted to give it to me to give to the church. It happened to be the first Sunday of this program year so everyone was going to be in the church for the 9:00 Eucharist. I suggested that Will put it in the collection plate himself. As he sat two rows in front of me, I could see the beaming smile on his face after he placed it in the collection plate at the Offertory. He knew in his heart he had done the right thing. And from my perspective, he had every right to be proud of himself. When I called Will's mom to ask permission to share the story she added this note to her narrative. Will wrote on the envelope himself: "form (sic) Will."

The transposing of the letters in the word "from" are so appropriate. In writing "form," it is the recognition of the lesson learned: the formation of Will as a child who is developing a strong moral character.

I am so grateful the children in All Things Bright and Beautiful learn daily how to make good choices and how to be kind to their classmates. And for Will, who is now beyond the classrooms at ATB&B, he continues to hear those lessons on Sunday, as he is a regular attendee. But most importantly, he has witnessed the strong moral character in his parents. It really is a team effort. And through the year, there will be opportunities for all the youth to participate in meaningful experiences that allow them to consider the needs and feeling of others. Whether it's sharing their personal narratives in the Jr. High and High School Youth Groups, participating in service projects, serving as acolytes, greeters and intercessors during the liturgies or partaking in the Eucharist in the Children's Chapel with one of the clergy. It is all part of the formation.

It is such a privilege to be a part of it.