Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lessons learned...Children should be seen, heard, and a part of the service

(This is the sixth post in a series. If you found this first, I suggest reading from the beginning here.)

Banner we made on the first day of Sunday School
On the Sunday after Easter, my two kids were the only small ones. Normally I lead Children's Chapel for all the small kids from the end of the Gospel reading until the Peace. Since it was just the two of them though, I decided that we would stay in church so I could hear the sermon. After the service, people came up to tell me they could hear my son's voice. What was refreshing was that it wasn't to complain about kids talking during the service but because they could hear him reading the Psalm responses with the congregation.

We have made it a priority at St. Francis to have the kids included in the service. We have children that read, lots of acolytes, children are always our oblation bearers and take up the offering, and children that share their musical gifts with us.

When we built a church in the parking lot.
We had visitors at Easter that had 3 children. After the service, they asked the kids how they liked it and they said "the service was much more kid friendly than that other church we go to." Remember that this is in a funeral home. A place that people have told us that they couldn't bring their children. But what the kids see is a welcoming place that has made a niche for them. They get a worship experience that shows that we think they are important and should feel a part of our service. And this is all in a traditional Rite II service with regular music.

We are one of the few new missions in our diocese with a lot of children and "a lot" is relative. We average 10-15 attendees each week under the age of 18. That is usually 15-30% of our total attendees. We don't have many children under 5 because we aren't able to offer a nursery. This puts all the children in the service with us. This has its advantages and disadvantages. For my children who have attended St. Francis since they were 1 and 3, this has meant that they are truly apart of the family of Christ. They have lots of siblings, parents, and grandparents that care for them. And some days I need every single bit of grace they have to give.
Making a crown of thorns during Lent.

My daughter has a developmental delay. On good days she is the happiest kid in the world, on bad days it is like a 12 hour hostage negotiation. She is a tall 4 year old that acts like a 3 year old. That doesn't always translate well to a regular church attendee, but we power through. While we sometimes get side glances, we have all come to an understanding that she needs to be there as much as the rest of us and I will take her out when the noise reaches a level where people can't hear the reading, sermon, etc...

This Sunday was one of those Sundays when we had to leave. She needs to reset sometimes and wanted to "start over". This can mean go back to the car and walk back in, go to the last place she was happy, or go back home. Being Pentecost, I had decorated the church with the older Sunday School kids in balloons and streamers and had to stay to the end to clean up. Her total meltdown made us miss communion and we waited in the lobby for the service to end. She kept saying she wanted to start over and I asked her what that was. "The bread, Momma, I need the bread." She wanted to start over and take communion. Luckily our loving church is understanding of this and Deacon Greg met us in the front of the church and she received communion from reserved sacrament. And then she was fine.

This was after communion, when she was alive with the Spirit!
I had always said that kids needed to understand communion before they should receive...and then I had kids. Do any of us fully understand communion? But my daughter gets it. When she toddled up at 1 or 2 and put her hands out, I got it. On Christmas Eve last year, she came back to our pew, threw her hands in the air, danced in a circle and sang "I ate the bread! Oh Yea! Oh Yea!"

If she hadn't been welcome in our church community, she wouldn't be able to have that connection with communion. She does well with routines and the Episcopal liturgy gives her that. She knows what is coming next. I used to wonder on her worst days if it would be easier for us just to stay home but we keep going and that has made all the difference.

P.S. While writing this, the Grow Christians blog came out with a stellar post about kids in church that I recommend!

1 comment:

  1. Three cheers for your children in church. People will say that the children aren't the future of the church, they are the church, and we must include them so they see our faith being lived out in public. Thanks for this posting.