Reading Church Supplies More Than Coloring Books and Crayons
Now that the summer is behind us, many churches have already held, or are planning to hold, their back-to-Sunday-School rally days. Curriculums have been set, classrooms have been readied, and the children are getting into the weekly routine.
The First Congregational Church of Reading, United Church of Christ, however, is also planning ways to keep the children in the sanctuary at least once a month. And not just to accompany their parents, but to be engaged and integral to the worship service. Last year, Peter Johnston, a seminarian at the Boston University School of Theology, and the church's minister to children and youth, decided to have the children create art in the sanctuary.
One Sunday, the children made a beautiful stained glass window out of sea glass and beads. Now it adorns one corner of the sanctuary. For Pentecost, they ripped up pieces of yellow and red paper to represent the tongues of flames, and threw them -- from their balcony location -- onto the folks processing below. There was positive feedback from the members and many felt it brought the meaning of Pentecost to the congregation in a concrete way.
"It all started with a Confirmation service," said Johnston. "Many of the confirmands had siblings and families wanted to be kept together for the blessing. Now we have gone beyond just sitting in the pews, a traditional children's message and singing of hymns. By placing a table in the front corner of the sanctuary, and engaging the children with pertinent projects, we can fully include them in a meaningful way -- expressing artistically the content of the service."
Rev. Lisa Stedman, pastor and teacher at FCC UCC Reading, explained that the kids are usually quiet enough -- keeping it to a low murmur and the sound of the craft so as not to be disruptive. "Truth be told, the plunking beads was so quiet it was not distracting," she said. "But the tearing paper (with enthusiasm) was a bit of a challenge. I actually just took a minute to invite the kids to see how MUCH noise they could make tearing paper. After that, I invited the adults to use their best focus skills to stick with me. They probably got more from the sermon than usual because of that."
She continued: "Really, I think the biggest issue is that the adults may be jealous of the kids getting to use their whole bodies in worship! And that presents a whole different set of questions about how we worship, doesn't it? It's a blessing all around!"
Future projects under consideration include baking communion bread, baking a birthday cake for the church's birthday (Pentecost), creating characters to use with Bible readings and sermon reflections, and building a crèche for Christmas. "We're going to let the Holy Spirit lead us," Johnston said.
"We've made a commitment to extend even more radical hospitality to children and families, and to make worship more active and interactive for all who attend," said Stedman. "This aligns with our understanding that we are all called to participate in worship and be ministers of the gospel. We're excited to see what the Spirit does next!"