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Children in Church – or – Fifth Sundays

April 23, 2012

Children in the Sunday School pray with words and with stones, laid carefully in a special plate.

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.

 

Oops.

 

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 and to include children in the beauty of our tradition’s liturgy, we decided to adopt the practice of occasional “all-ages” worship services.  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 include the work of the children.  In our first service, the children taught the congregation their Sunday School’s intercessory prayer practice of placing a stone on a special plate for each petition.  This practice will be included in future 5th Sundays, without requiring the leadership of the children.  For our second service (this coming Sunday), the children have created an altar frontal representing Psalm 23 and they will also lead the congregation in a gestural version of the Lord’s Prayer.  Check beck for photos next week!

 

Future services may include more dramatic storytelling or more movement or other kinds of visual art or…  One of the great gifts we receive from children is the reminder that we are imaginative, physical beings and that God welcomes everything we are to God’s table.  Thanks be to God!

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