Do you know the child who spends every service lolling on the floor, or chatting quietly to herself at the dolls house, or snipping paper into a thousand little triangles? The child who rarely speaks, never sings and shakes her head violently when invited to participate? The child whose back is to the congregation and who seems oblivious to everything that goes on around her?
This is the child who wrote the prayer above, and asked her mother to read it at the call to worship on Sunday.
We don’t have a Sunday school or kids program. We don’t directly teach our children anything. But we do believe in the power of liturgy to write Scripture onto our hearts and soak prayer into our bones. And we do believe that children are apprentices to the ways of faith: and that their apprenticeship is best served by being surrounded by people of every life stage who are paying attention to God together.
There are times when I wonder if we’re doing the right thing, because everything we do is counter-cultural. Should we in fact separate people by age, and run developmentally-appropriate programs? Should we dispense with rich language and thoughtful preaching, and just buy in Messy Church? Is it okay for our kids to be bored at times? Is it okay that some kids read novels during the service, or that teenagers gossip through the congregational silence? Should we make our services more interesting, more entertaining? Are our children learning anything?
But every time insidious thoughts like these creep in, two things happen. First, my own soul shrivels up; for I know I need worship with powerful words and complex imagery. A limited vocabulary, simplistic teaching and the threat of craft makes my skin crawl: they’re not enough for me, nor for the adults in our congregation and nor, quite frankly, for our children. And the second thing which happens is that a child then surprises me with a startling insight or prayer, and I realise they’ve been growing in faith all along.
So a big thanks goes out to Brahminy, for writing such a beautiful prayer, for being brave enough to share it with us, and for showing us that you have been listening and learning and that God has been speaking to you all this time.
And a big thanks to the whole congregation: for every time you turn up to listen and wonder and pray and sing; every time you laugh or weep or ask a question or share a story in the service; every time you pay attention to the Scriptures and take communion and give someone a hug, you are modelling faith and helping our kids grow. They don’t need spiritual laws, and they don’t need to be entertained. They just need a crowd of people who muddle through life and faith and worship together, who embody the diversity of the unified body of Christ, and who take children as seriously as adults.
So that’s what we’re trying to provide. And as we’re discovering time and again, this funny old project of communal worship has an effect on both adult and child: it opens our eyes to God’s presence in this sacred space, and in this wonderful, wonderful world.
PS: If you don’t know, we use a formal liturgy which incorporates the whole shebang – gathering, confession, Scripture, silence, preaching, prayers, communion, sending – every week. And on Sunday we had 17 adults and 21 dependants at the service which, outside an educational institution, is the sort of adult-child ratio I suspect one normally finds at public gatherings only in East Timor. Worried about the future of the church? Stop treating children like children, and instead develop service styles which include and speak to every person, whatever their age. Off the top of my head, this means: make sure sermons mention school as well as work; incorporate call and response; invite children to help set the table; teach them to use a liturgy book; incorporate simple repetitive chants; build movement into the service; draw out their prayers through multisensory prayer stations; kneel down to speak with them; sit on a low chair to preach; allow interruptions and questions; and so on. Don’t try to be kid-friendly. Don’t gush. Don’t talk down to them. Address them by name. Use real words. Admit doubt. When you don’t know something, say so. Treat them like the real people they are. For further ideas, click here.
Emailed to Sanctuary 19 June 2019 © Sanctuary, 2019.
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