By The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
When we gather for worship we stand in between. It happens a thousand different ways. We admit we are fragile and we ask God for strength. We admit that we have behaved like a bull in a china shop and we ask God for a little more forgiveness and a little more space to spread out, to grow, to live, and move. We admit that we are lost and ask God for a way forward, a way out. We admit that we are overconfident and ask God for humility. We admit we are scared and ask God for whatever the opposite of anxiety and worry and fear might be. We admit that (fill in the blank) and we ask God for (fill in the blank). So much can happen in the span of a worship service: music that fills us, words that encourage us, silence that invites sacred encounter, and community that invites us toward something life changing.
Children have the capacity to be filled in this same way. Maybe you carry some early childhood holy moments that continue to resonate with you or maybe you’ve seen this in your own children or grandchildren. For example a young child tearfully dove into her mother’s arms as the choir sang a beautiful song in the sanctuary this fall: the song literally moved her to tears and filled her up so fully with all that God’s love promises us. It met her where she was. It spoke something divine into what was going on in her life just like it does for you.
As a pastor for children, I wonder quite a bit about what types of experiences offer the biggest capacity for holy encounter. Are children best served by a chance to sing and hear God’s story in an environment built just for them—exactly where they are, developmentally? Or are they best served by worshiping communally, together with people of every age and stage of life’s journey? Jesus said, “let the little children come unto me.” What type of experience most completely allows a child to draw near to Jesus?
As Bill Evertsberg reported a few weeks ago, in response to questions like this about inviting children into sacred experience, we are now inviting young families to participate in worship at 9 a.m. in a new (yet ancient) way: “bearing God’s light” into the sanctuary with a lit candle, leading the call to worship, reading scripture. Celebrate with us: in January and February we had 15 people in seven families help lead worship from preschoolers to 6th graders to adults. There is something joyful, sustaining, and life-giving about families leading worship together. As one empty-nester said, “I enjoy having kids around me… makes me remember what’s important in life.” For the people who are coming at 9 a.m. worship, it works. And we think it might work for you too. Sit alongside your own children. Let them wiggle, let them sing, and let them be part of the ancient rhythm of praising God together. If they’re little (usually 1st grade and younger), they can leave half way through to hear a story in Children’s Chapel, but they are also welcome to stay a while and linger with you in the sanctuary for the sermon and benediction.
We are lucky that at Kenilworth Union Church we don’t have to decide one way or another about how to invite children into sacred community. If you come at 9 a.m., children sit in the sanctuary alongside seasoned citizens, singing old and new hymns together, knit together in the rhythms of worship. If you come at 10:30 a.m., children spend time in intentional conversation with peers and adults about the big important stories of our faith, and then experience worship together with chapel songs and a message that is just their size. Oh and get this, if you come at 8 a.m., children are welcome there too to sing and pray and participate in the sacrament of communion—it doesn’t happen quite as often but when kids are present at 8 a.m. they are adopted into that beloved community. We have a fair amount of flexibility and offer Jesus’ story of love and transformation no matter what.