On May 5th we gathered once again over food for our monthly Lunch & Chat. This time, we talked about, and with, our children. We started by sharing stories of our favorite memories of our own childhood in church, or of a child we love. Ashley Rollins and I then presented folks with the following:
- What do you like best about how children have been participating at St. Philip?
- If you could imagine kids participating in church successfully, what would that look like?
- How might you improve the Pray-Ground?
- Community norms with our children (in Sanctuary and Parish Hall): talking about norms empowers all of us to implement them.
As we took notes, it was very clear: we value having our children in church with us. We like seeing them play together, we like hearing them sing, we notice their presence among us, and we appreciate them. We see the way they respect and like one another, and how they respect and like their teachers. Seeing them changes us, it gives us joy. How beautiful is that?!? We appreciate our children!
We appreciate them so much, we kept generating ideas for new ways for them to participate: topical coloring materials, more liturgical singing, new “jobs” for them to do during the service, a children’s “coffee” hour, and more! Honestly, the number of ideas was both exciting and overwhelming as Ashley and I wondered: what does it look like to implement all these great ideas? (More on that later)
A major reason for this topic was to discuss the Pray-ground. Last Fall, the Vestry made a decision to include children in our worship by creating a space for them in the front of the Sanctuary, the Pray-ground. We removed a front pew, added a rug, soft toys, a small table, books, and coloring items, and invited our children to play quietly during the liturgy. I promised at the time to revisit this decision, giving us all time to see if the experiment would work.
Apparently, it works, and it works beautifully.
As a community, we see the way that our children’s behavior has changed in church. They understand it is a place for quiet movement (most of the time). We see them learning to play together, and how they are actively learning from one another and from the many adults they see around them. They are learning to join us in parts of the service as we stand to hear the Good News, sing a hymn together, or share in God’s Table. I hear stories of children “playing priest” at home, of singing songs we learned together on Sunday (“Thank you for this day” seems to be a hit) later in the week. It works so well that when someone suggested that we needed to remove one more pew because we needed the room, there was not a single objection. It is a great problem to have, the need to make more room for children in church!
This does not mean that sometimes the children aren’t distracting, or that they are all perfectly behaved. But, as one Vestry member put it in our time of reflection, “I learned that the distraction wasn’t in them, but in me, and their presence just doesn’t bother me like I thought it might.” As Ashley shared with the Vestry, the big take-away is that kids learn how to be in church by being in church; apparently, we learn how to better be in church as well.
It was clear that even in the midst of different generational and cultural expectations for the behavior of our children, we do have common values. The Pray-Ground already has a set of norms, to which we added a few that are meant for all of our church space.
First, speak kindly to one another. Our children soak up everything around them. As we teach them how to use their bodies and voices, speak with kindness.
Second, everyone is welcome.
Third, move gently in the building. I.e., no running inside (the sanctuary, parish hall, anywhere).
Fourth, the sanctuary steps are for communion only.
Fifth, no digital screens in the sanctuary (adults too, unless you are filming).
As I mentioned, there were so many ideas that Ashley and I wondered how we were going to implement them all. So, the first important thing to say about moving ahead is that we need your help.
- During Liturgy we need your help being a kind and gentle presence in the Pray-Ground. Children learn from all adults, not just their parents and guardians. So please, join the children for a Sunday once a month. Show them how we stand for the Gospel, how we say the Lord’s Prayer together, or help shepherd them all up for communion.
- Help us host a children’s ‘coffee’ time (without the caffeine) after worship, be extra hands at a children’s retreat. You will hear more about such opportunities in the future, so please, volunteer!
- Be kind to a child! Children learn from all of us, and for some of our children, church may be one of the few places where adults listen kindly and attentively to them. Be that adult for a child!
In the immediate future, the Vestry suggested that we move ahead with more actively including children in our liturgy during the procession, through song, and encouraging older children to be acolytes. Expect to see our children more active in our shared worship, and to sing music that our children can join in with enthusiasm!
There was also interest in learning more about Godly Play, and so expect that a few of the sermons in the future will take the shape of a Godly Play session. This will give the adults an opportunity to wonder about the stories of God’s people with our children, and our children the opportunity to see us learn as they learn.
It is a cliche that children are our future, but sometimes it is true. Not simply because children bring growth (that is actually not always true in churches, and certainly not the only way a church can grow), but because children help us grow, wonder, change, laugh, and sing. We are blessed at St. Philip to have so many children in our midst, and it is our hope that this community, and more importantly, that God and the love of God that we share together, is a part of the future of our children.
As always, I hope this gives you a sense of where we are going, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.