Many who attended our Super Saturday event in October (2018) experienced worship in a way that was new to them. The focus was on being as intergenerational and inclusive as possible — being accessible not only to children as well as adults, but also to those for whom reading, hearing, and/or seeing is difficult. And while it was impossible to offer every manner of inclusivity in that short period of time, we encouraged all in attendance to open their minds and their hearts to everything that the liturgy of the morning had to offer.
Perhaps the most unfamiliar element of this service of worship to most was the Pray-ground, a place in the front of the sanctuary where young children can experience worship through age-appropriate worship materials and tools that will help keep them engaged in worship. You may read more about how children worship and what they are able to truly experience in corporate worship here.
While having children engage their hands in a simple craft project, in drawing, or looking at a Bible picture book may appear to detract them from what is happening in worship, I believe that this model is critical to children’s spiritual development. While being in the same space as the rest of the faith community, they are living and growing in Christian community in ways that they are able to access. It is true that “it takes a village to raise a child.” For people of faith, it takes an entire congregation.
Ever since the Sunday School movement incorporated the educational theories of Robert Dewey in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we have been assuming that children are best raised to become Christian worshippers by first being educated about it. This training often takes the form of “Children’s Church” and Sunday School lessons that are focused on the elements of worship. Yet children learn best by observing and by doing — mimicking what the adults around them are doing (for good or for ill). Children are constantly taking in what is going on around them, even when they are busy doing something with their hands and don’t appear to be paying attention. But they are.
This was evidenced as people were departing from the Super Saturday event at the close of the day. A few took the opportunity to engage with the children who experienced the Pray-ground in asking how their day was. One seven-year-old commented that she loved that everyone got to see what the children did in the Children’s Program when they brought their birds on sticks to the closing worship. And she beautifully articulated that the activities offered during the Children’s Program helped her to think about herself and our faith. Then she added, “I loved being a part of what was going on.” A four-year-old shared that she loved playing the rhythm instruments during the singing of the hymns and songs. “I liked it. We had the shakers. It was us shaking them. Not just the adults.”
While these quotes from the children may be perceived as “cute” because they come from young children, I saw that both of these children were age-age-appropriately articulating how being a part of corporate worship — the faith community, the Body of Christ — was the most meaningful part of their day. Of course they had fun in the Children’s Program with gifted adults and enjoyable Bible activities. Yet clearly the part of the day that they took with them was that they feel welcomed, appreciated, and valued as members of the community that was created during Super Saturday.
How is your congregation helping your youngest members to feel that they are a true part of your faith community? What practices, traditions, and rituals can you adapt to ensure that your children and youth feel cherished enough that they want to keep your faith community a regular part of their lives? If you would like some assistance with making these changes, feel free to contact me for resources and opportunities for discussion around this topic.
Blessings on your growing together in Christian community!
Many thanks to my colleagues who led worship with me at Super Saturday: Kristin Putney, Christian Education and Youth Ministry Resource Consultant, Rhode Island Conference; and Karen Ziel, Minister of Faith Formation and Leadership, Connecticut Conference; alongside Karen Kilty, Barbara Langill, and Ellie Snape who provided the Children’s Program.
Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Associate or Faith Formation & Youth Ministries for the Conference.