By The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
I could write 1,000 newsletter articles about why worship is formational, for adults and especially for children, but here is where my mind is today. At Kenilworth Union we affirm that everyone can draw near to God. No one is excluded from God’s presence. Each of us can experience God, no matter where we are on life’s journey. No matter what we do, how we act, how “churchy” or pious we are: God is with us.
This is a beautiful (and, I believe, life-giving) theological worldview, and yet if we only understand God in this way, we might begin to think, “if God is with me wherever I am, I don’t need to go to church.” It is easy (and human) to want to affirm “I don’t need to go to church” because it is hard to go to church:
- it can be logistically difficult to get the whole family out of the house
- it can be awkward socially to be in the company of people we don’t know or aren’t used to spending time with
- it can be uncomfortable emotionally to be vulnerable in the presence of God and each other
Yet, for our children, and for ourselves as adults, worship has the possibility to be formational.
- Routine: Just like counting, spelling and soccer take practice, so does our faith. In fact, the whole worship service, from prelude to postlude is called the “liturgy” which means the work of the people (the Greek word leitourgia derives from two root words—laos, the people, and ergas, a work). Worship is, in some sense, work. But it is something we do together, in families, and in these wild knit-together church families that form community. A lifelong faith—starting in childhood or maybe, for some of us, in adulthood—takes work, for each of us on our own, and for all of us together (children included).
- Surprise: The discipline of participating in worship means that we can relax into the sacred space. Showing up means that we begin to know what to expect. The routine makes room for us to be startled by the ways that God shows up, lights us up, is made known when we show up. Maybe the soloist’s hymn of faith to God startles you into faith. Maybe the poetry of the prayers connects you deeply to God’s love. Maybe the words of the Lord’s Prayer that you’ve said a thousand times catch you off guard and connect you to God. Maybe the whispered question from your 4 year-old confuddles you toward God’s love.
- Connection: Because faith is not linear nor hierarchical, and does not progress in any sort of predictable, sequential way, no matter how old we are (or how young we are) we can all pile into the sanctuary together and praise God on an even playing field. Your first grader, sitting next to you in church today, can have an insight into the transformation possible in God’s kingdom that no one in dozens of years would ever have had without hearing it from their 7 year-old perspective. I believe that the octogenarians and the eight year olds should worship God together because that deep spiritual connection across generations has the ability to change our hearts and lives. The connections we make together in the sanctuary can literally be life-changing and life-saving.