Cinnamon Hill

Cinnamon Hill Preschool started serving preschool children and their families in 1978 - the same year that I was ordained and began my ministry. That was 42 years ago and the school has always met at 1st Congregational United Church of Christ in Rapid City, South Dakota. For the last 25 years of my career, I worked in a building that housed a preschool. My office was at the opposite end of the hallway from the school. My practice was to arrive at work a couple of hours before the children arrived. I liked to do my desk work when the building was quiet and empty and spend much of the day outside of my office, visiting people, teaching classes, attending meetings, and managing the church’s many activities and programs. Nearly every day I walked down the hallway multiple times and frequently peeked into the classrooms and met the children in the hallway as they lined up to get drinks from the water cooler.

Some of the children and parents of Cinnamon Hill Preschool were active members of our congregation, but many were not. I got to know them in a different context than the families who participated in other church programs. It was amazing to me, however, how often I would meet someone in the community who would say, “You look familiar, where might I have met you?” I’d tell them where I worked. “What church is that?” they would ask. “The one on Clark Street up from West Boulevard,” I would answer. “Big White Cross. Cinnamon Hill Preschool.” “Oh!” they would exclaim. “I went to Cinnamon Hill!” or “My child went to Cinnamon Hill.” Over the years, I learned that there were a lot of people in the community who knew our church because it was home to the preschool. It makes sense . The school’s programs touched nearly 100 children each year. There were different programs in different years, but all of the years I worked there, there were at least two classrooms of children who met 3 days a week and two classrooms of children who met 2 days a week.

Preschool children had been one of the focuses of our Seminary education. Our seminary operated a lab school for 3- and 4-year-old children. Both Susan and I took the seminary’s class in early childhood education and worked in the preschool. Susan worked as the assistant to the school’s director in addition to her studies. I served as an informal photographer at the school and provided pictures for the book that was published during those years, “The Young Child as Person: The Development of a Healthy Conscience.” That book and the background work that went into it was an important part of our education. the preschool years are very important in the development of a child.

When provided with a nurturing environment, children begin to internalize control of their own behavior. They learn that what they do affects others. Naturally striving to be in relationship, children learn moral behavior by understanding how their behaviors affect others. The preschool taught seminary students the art of active listening and working with children so that they could develop and internalize their moral lives.

Working with people all of my career, I often encountered adults who had failed to internalize their moral behavior. They responded only to external rules of behavior. There are adults who seem to lack a basic sense of right and wrong and are restrained only by laws and external authority. they take advantage whenever they get the opportunity and justify their behavior in ways that I do not understand. I believe that their lack of moral character stems, in part, from the failure to learn basic conscience during their preschool years. Children who become five or six years old without learning that their behavior can hurt or help another person often grow up into adults who do not care for the feelings of others and do not understand the consequences of their behaviors.

I’m always disappointed when I meet someone who can’t be trusted and who lives a selfish life without understanding their relationships with others. I am convinced that preschool children need to have opportunities for structured relationships with their peers and that they need adults in their lives who are consistent and careful in relationship to the children.

I remain convinced that being home to a preschool is central to the wider ministries of the church. Even though the preschool was an independent corporation and not an official ministry of the congregation, providing the physical space and being the host of the preschool helped to form the identity of the congregation and provided a lasting positive impact on the quality of life in the city. Along the way, the preschool provided a wonderful atmosphere in which to work. I had daily encounters with children and their parents. I watched as they grew and developed. I had conversations with young adults as they grew into their roles as parents. I met grandparents and other family members. I witnessed school programs and listened to the children sing their songs. I count myself among the most fortunate of people in part because I was given constant safe access to witness the growth of children.

God, when you came to us in the life of Jesus, you welcomed the little children. How grateful we are for that example. As our congregation continues to welcome children into its building, we give you thanks for the trust of children and parents, the care of teachers and administrators, the years of research and learning that make the preschool possible.

Bless the children of Cinnamon Hill. May they develop healthy consciences and learn how to be contributing members of their communities as they grow into adulthood. May they gain skills as children that guide their behavior as parents when they grow up.

Bless the parents and grandparents who love the children of the preschool. May their love reflect your great love for all people.

In these uncertain times may children continue to find meaningful ways to learn and grow together in health and safety.

We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!