Friday, October 26, 2007

Children and worship part 1

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of church. The Episcopal church my family attended when I was a small child was full of children, and the way I remember it, friendly to children, too. Of course there were rules and boundaries. We had to be quiet. We had to sit and stand and kneel. We had to wear our Sunday best. Going into the area behind the altar rail was strictly verboten (we had to go inside the rail for the Christmas pageant one year, and it seemed sort of scary). But despite all this, I always felt at home there.

When my older kids were young we went to a church that was (from my perspective at least) child welcoming. The kids went to church--church school was beforehand--and they participated, even if they didn't pay attention ALL the time. They were part of what was going on.

I am puzzled and dismayed whenever I come across the attitude that kids shouldn't be in church, or can only be there when their behavior is perfect or very nearly so. I want children to be in church. And how on earth can we expect them to feel any connection to worship, to liturgy, to church when they are older if we don't welcome there from the beginning?

So how do we incorporate kids into the worship life of the congregation? It's something I've been thinking a great deal about lately. A few weeks ago I attended a workshop about children in worship, and I found myself disagreeing with some of the ideas presented there. This workshop started with the premise that we should "throw out the prayerbook." For me, a cradle Episcopalian, this is an automatic non-starter. Adapt the prayerbook--sure. Make the liturgy a bit more kid friendly--okay. But make it watered down, less authentic--um, no.

I'm thinking of how I might design a service that would be "child-friendly" or "family oriented" and I'll write more about it as time goes on. But for now, do you have ideas? Experienced good liturgies which welcomed children and youth? Share them with me.


Carrie said...

I don't have much advice, our church claims to be child-friendly, but in reality I don't think it really is. Kids can come into service, but they are frowned at.

Our Sunday School program is pretty good, and the kids like going to church because of that, but they both hate going into service because they feel the disapproval when I bring them in.

I grew up Unitarian, which I think is a much more family friendly environment. Not that I think Episcopal churches could replicate that in any way, but it hard for me to think of a way to make the Episcopal service more child-friendly because all my memories of church as a kid are so completely different...

I'll be interested to hear your ideas (and others).

What Now? said...

Interesting to read your post right after reading this post on children and church.

I will confess with some embarrassment that I have mixed feelings about children in church. Those feelings are mostly a result of having gone for awhile to a church that said it was "child-friendly" because the parents let their kids run around noisily in the sanctuary during the service, which made it incredibly difficult for me to concentrate on much of anything. And all of this was done in the name of welcoming children, so then it seemed impossible to remonstrate without being labeled as "anti-children," which I wasn't willing to do and which is not an accurate characterization of me. So I left the parish altogether.

All of which is to say that there is a real challenge in being welcoming to children without also being alienating to others. But I think the key here is what it means to be actually welcoming of children in worship, and rampant misbehavior is not, I think, the answer any of us is looking for.

J said...

I think creating a child-friendly church is a process that starts with top-down leadership. When I visited our church for the first time, I knew it would be a good place for the kids when the rector announced, "Don't shush the children! We'll keep the children and remove you!" The rector had created a set of reassuring guidelines for parents, printed and available in the back, that started, "God put the wiggle in children. Don't feel the need to suppress it in God's house." It went on to suggest ways to include them in the service, pointed out the kid's nook, and so on. He also would respond to kids during the service.

When that rector retired, however, things changed a bit. Kids were still welcome, but there were subtle differences - and more glares when kids made noise. The interim did his best to stem that trend.

Now we have a new rector and we are waiting to see what happens - but it looks pretty good so far.

This is all to say I don't think you have to change the liturgy to have kids and families feel welcome. It's an attitude, it's leading the congregation in that warmth and acceptance. I am sure you can do it...:-)