Sunday, October 07, 2012

Community Complete, Children in Worship

I got an email the other day informing me that the kids would not have "Children's Worship" this Sunday morning. Maybe it was because it's Columbus Day weekend and the leaders were going to be away? Or maybe it was another reason, but regardless the kids were going to be in church for the entire service. In previous churches I've worked for the kids were present for most, if not all of the service. But that is not the norm here. At this place the kids are present for the beginning of the service, sitting with their parents. About ten minutes into the service, following opening prayers and a hymn and the collect of the day, the kids process out while we  sing a couple of verses of a hymn. Lately we've been singing, "Sanctuary."

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, Tried and True,
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
Sanctuary For You

And If I'm Holy,
As you are Holy,
Someday I'll see you,
Face to Face.
Melt and Mold Me,
Into your Image,
And take me to your
Holy Place.

The kids line up for a formal procession with one child carrying a tiny cross. The kids, their leaders, and I process up the chancel steps, past the choir, and out the side door. Then the kids go upstairs to children's chapel where they listen to the scripture readings and have a lesson for the day. Typically they do some kind of art project and then come back in to church in time for communion, some 30 minutes later.

Having the kids in worship for the entire service is a concept that literally means that some people will not come to church. Some parents do not want to sit with their kids, squiggly and noisy, for an hour. Some pew friends don't want their service interrupted by the sounds of a child. On the other hand, any number of us (me included) find church to be much more CHURCH when the kids are present. So this news was good news for me! I quickly decided to do a children's sermon (and sent out a parish email letting people know that the kids would be in church, there would be a children's sermon, and their would be activity for the kids - coloring pages on St. Francis).

Before church started I let all the parents and kids know what to expect. We had a tub full of instruments so the kids could join me for the Gospel procession playing instruments along the way. This is truly one of the more delightful moments in worship for me - especially when the Gospel reading focuses on children as a blessing. The kids stayed with me after the Gospel reading, following me to the chancel step where we sat down so I could read them a story.

I read this book: 


The story is a good one for celebrating the feast day of St. Francis - it tells of a young Quaker boy, Obadiah, who is followed by a seagull. Obadiah dislikes the seagull and resents the gentle teasing from his family about his "friend." One little girl interrupted the story several times to add her own narrative. "When I go to school we sit 'crisscross applesauce' and that means story time." (for example).

 Although Obadiah struggles with seagull and the teasing, by the end of the book Obadiah's resentment turns. He comes to appreciate the seagull. The book ends with Obadiah saying, "Mother, the seagull is my friend....and, because I helped the seagull, I am his friend too."

I love the message that helping one of God's creatures is an act of friendship. It was a lovely way for us to conclude the Season of Creation with the Feast of St. Francis. I sent the kids back to their seats with a packet of pictures of St. Francis and some colored pencils, giving them something to do for the remaining moments of worship. It was a lovely way for us to all be together and worship.

Later a couple of little boys, who had been in the nursery, came running upstairs with their mother. It took them only a moment to recognize their grandmother singing in the choir - and promptly bolt up the aisle to her side. Some people may have resented the kids being unruly and running down the aisle, jostling the choir as they pushed their way to their grandmother. But it was truly delightful. These two little boys, four year old twins, are a joy.

Children in worship complete the community. Moving them to a space of their own can be useful once in awhile enabling them to hear and talk about the Bible stories in their own way. It enables me to talk about more adult content (violence, rape and sex trafficking, and other issues of social justice) without worrying that parents will have a whole lot of explaining to do. :-)

But having kids in worship for the entire service is a sign of a whole, complete, community. It just seems right. A thunk when something falls, some crying, a word said a bit too loudly, a laugh - kids are spontaneous and vocal. I love to hear them in worship. Children in worship change the energy of the worship experience - it is livelier and happier. All around me I see adult passing smiles, responding to the spontaneous joy of children.

There will be other opportunities for the children to be in worship. Hopefully with good communication I can be prepared with a children's sermon and kids time. All of us will be better for it, more complete and whole, because our kids are worshiping with us. I hope that sitting on the floor, telling them stories, and knowing them by name will fill the kids with good memories of Church. Memories that tell them that they are important, valuable, and loved. I hope these kids grow up knowing that the church wants them. Wants them to be present as kids they are. And that we want them to stay, grow up, become adults in church. Wants them and shows them this by taking the time to engage them -as kids - in worship. Preparing them, I hope to be a living sanctuary for God.

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, Tried and True,
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
Sanctuary For You


Lisa :-] said...

Maybe you could approach whomever makes these decisions and see if kids could be in church for service once a month--like the first Sunday of the month or something. I was brought up Catholic. More lavish churches had "cry rooms" where Moms could take babies, but kids were expected to be in church during Mass. We made our First Communiions in second grade--after that, we were as "required" to receive communion on Sunday as any adult.

Gaye said...

Before I was Catholic I was a children's leader & often felt that my job was to keep the children busy & out of the main service. I am sure that my own sense of alienation must have obvious to the kids. A new Minister then instituted a monthly children's service where he engaged with children in similar manner to that you describe here. I was always saddened that so many regulars stayed on the children's service Sunday.

It can be a tricky balancing act to get right.

Wendy said...

Our church switched to a 2-hour format with children in worship about 5 years ago--before our time. There was concern that parents would come for the education hour and go home so their kids wouldn't have to sit through worship, as in the previous system many families had stayed home on the monthly "family Sunday." In fact, the opposite has been the case. Families come for worship, but not church school. I like having my daughter in worship with me, though we still take the boy to the nursery after the children's sermon.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...