Worship by the Whole People of God

Worship by the Whole People of God

by the Rev. Sara Potter of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Arcata

For three and a half years now we at St. Alban's have had all ages in worship together for the opening hymn, opening sentences and reading of Holy Scripture at 10:30 a.m. with preschool and early elementary age children having their own chapel time during the sermon, Creed and the prayers. At 8 a.m. all ages are together without the provision of chapel. This grew out of a conviction that we are most faithful in worship when all ages and all conditions are together to offer their praise and thanksgiving to God. This has been well received by the children, parents and the congregation alike. It is a joy to watch the children’s faces and hear their voices as they try out the words of our liturgy and music or just greet their friends.

I am mindful that, while young children are often like sponges taking in everything around them, there are things we can do as adults to help them more fully participate in corporate worship. Connie Webb pointed out to me recently that for children who are beginning readers, the hymns can be confusing. In school, children learn to read line by line, moving from the top of the page to the bottom, but hymns start at the top, move to the middle, then to the bottom of the page and then back to the top. This is not obvious and needs to be learned.

With this in mind, I want to add a few more observations about nurturing children in worship. A colleague in Connecticut, a Methodist lay-woman, once remarked to me, “Episcopalians sometimes think their worship is too formal to engage children but the truth is there is lots of movement in your worship, ways for them to engage all of their senses.” So attend to the body. Engage children in the movement of worship—standing, sitting, kneeling, greeting and so on. Make them responsible for putting the family’s offering into the offering plate. Be sure to attend to their basic needs before the service begins—are they hungry, have they had a chance to visit the restroom? None of us, old or young, does well when our bodies are distracted by these basic bodily functions.

There is a deeper purpose to the work of nurturing children in worship. This same colleague also told me a story about one Sunday morning when she was kneeling in prayer in worship when her teenage son pulled on her sleeve and whispered rather loudly , “Mom, Mom don’t forget we need to get me a new soccer shirt this afternoon.” “Yes,” she responded through gritted teeth, “I know. Could it wait until after the Lord’s Prayer?”

It occurred to her at that moment that having her children with her in worship, teaching them the ways of worship in her tradition, was her offering to God. It might be easier, not the least for parents, to make worship a time for adults to get their “God” time—free of distraction. But then it would not be worship, the offering of praise and thanksgiving by the whole people of God—all ages and conditions—to the glory of God.

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