Photo by Lucia Macedo on UnsplashThese days, I can’t help but be reminded of the movie, Jaws. If you are not as chronologically advanced as I am to recall this 1974 summer blockbuster, it is a Stephen Spielberg film centered around a sleepy little Cape Cod town that is terrorized by a giant human-eating shark. While the local sheriff works to ensure that the summer beach season continues as usual, we soon discover, through gruesome footage, that it is not actually safe to go back into the water.
While getting back into the waters of on-site church activities such as worship and faith formation is in the works at most, if not all of our Southern New England Conference congregations, I am concerned that we are focusing on our strong desires for face-to-face church experiences to the neglect of the most vulnerable in our congregations — our children and those who are immunocompromised. As followers of Jesus, the who welcomed children and ate with the disenfranchised, I would hope that our re-entry plans are taking into consideration the current population that is not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Our 2020 pandemic shift to virtual worship and programming has caused many of our children and youth to disengage from the church. They were “Zoomed-out” from their public schooling and many did not find what the church was offering online to be what they needed spiritually. Congregations that were offering them virtual programming without any other means of connection probably weren’t meeting the spiritual and social needs of their youth within the faith community. So what are we to do now that we know our traditional Sunday School model is no longer effective, and the Delta variant threatens the safety of our children and many of our youth?
First, we need to ensure that we keep our children safe when they are at church.
We are grateful for the recent SNEUCC webinar on re-entry guidelines for faith formation programs presented by Debbie Ringen, our Minister of Health and Wellness, and Dawne Quinn, Director of First Church Academy for Young Children at First Church of Christ Congregational in West Hartford, CT. They shared guidelines for corporate worship and faith formation programming with infants and children, and ardently encouraged the wearing of masks by everyone present over three years of age in order to mitigate the spreading of the virus to the unvaccinated.
We need to support our parents/caregivers/families in the area of faith formation at home.
Perhaps the most efficient way to do this is to send home simple suggestions, materials, and social media posts that follow-up on worship and programming that has taken place at church. In this way, those that attended in person will extend their experience, and those who could not attend will not entirely miss out on what was offered. But do be sure to keep it simple, so that it does not become yet another thing to add to their busy schedules. Activities that tie into mealtimes, bedtime and morning routines, and rides in the car are just as meaningful, if not more, than a Sunday School-style lesson.
We need to offer intergenerational worship that truly welcomes all and maintains relationships and connections.
Inviting children, youth, and families to help lead and/or design worship is a great way to invite them back to church, and their ideas and suggestions will help to make worship engaging and accessible for all ages. This in no way means that worship needs to be “dumbed down” or simplified. Rather, it means that the liturgy, rituals, and traditions used by your congregation can be expanded with the engaging of more of the five senses. For example, many favorite hymns can be lined out as “repeat-after-me” songs, prayers can be prayed with the body or in sign language, and sermons can include visuals, storytelling, or interactive sharing, for example. Since children are born spiritual, all that is needed is an invitation for them to share what they know about God, love, peace, caring, etc. This will also help to nurture the gift of spirituality that God has given them as they grow. Children have much more to teach adults than we tend to give them credit for!
Visit our (Post-)Pandemic Planning and Resources webpage for more ideas and resource links to help you step into this new age with the children, youth, and families in your congregation. Our children and youth are not our future; they are full members of the Body of Christ right now! Let us not neglect them in their formative years, for our love and care for both their safety and their spiritual needs now will ensure their relationships with us as part of the Body of Christ into the future.
Debbie Gline Allen serves as a Minister of Faith Formation on the Conference’s Faith Formation Ministry Team. She also serves as the administrator of the SNEUCC Faith Formation Leadership Program. Her passion for ministry is with children and family...