Children in Church
It should come as no surprise than I’m a fan of Sunday Schools but even the best Sunday Schools (maybe especially the best ones, actually) can have the unintended negative consequence of teaching both children and adults that children don’t belong in church services. And that can result in teens or young adults who have never felt comfortable in worship services and so end up sleeping in on Sundays once they “graduate” from Sunday School.
In an attempt to find a balance between providing age-appropriate worship and education while also providing opportunities for the whole community to worship together, we have developed two strategies.
In order to include children in our liturgical traditions, the Cathedral decided to adopt the practice of occasional “all-ages” worship services – held whenever a month has a Fifth Sunday. Our goal in these services is not to move Sunday School upstairs but to design services that take into account the diverse needs of our diverse congregation. The presence of the children gives us permission to stretch our liturgical muscles in healthy, energizing ways, experimenting with different ways to pray, read, and respond to the good news of Jesus.
What does that look like in practice? Well…
The service as a whole is kept a little shorter and a little snappier. Sermons are not children’s talks but are kept a little more simple, a little shorter, a little more direct. Our music director chooses choral settings that are likewise shorter and simpler and we look for ways to repeat musical elements throughout the service.
We look for ways to reinforce connections between what happens “downstairs” with what happens “upstairs”. The 5th Sunday’s prayers of the people are modeled on the hands-on prayer practice used in the Sunday School and we are deliberate about using the liturgical greetings of our services (such as “The Lord be with you” or “Peace be with you”) in Sunday School. We also try to incorporate the work of the children – the percussion instruments may migrate upstairs to join the choir’s bells or a kid-created altar frontal may be used.
These services are very much a work in progress but part of the joy of them is that they always will be!
Our second strategy is the Children’s Chapel, a lovely little chapel space near the back of the Cathedral. Equipped with kid-sized furniture, story books, paper and crayons, foam blocks, and soft toys, children (supervised by their parents who are able to sit in the pews nearby) are welcome to spend services playing quietly (or at least quiet-ish-ly) in a space that is very much their own. The chapel is well-used by children on regular Sundays before and after Sunday School, as well as during special services such as Easter.