St. James’ Commitment to Children
With renewed energy our congregation is committed to making St. James’ not only welcoming to adults but also to children, youth and their families. That commitment is evident and so too are the fruits of everyone’s dedication and work. We are exploring new ways to minister with the youngest in our midst. We soon will have a new dedicated nursery space and are training teachers to launch the much loved program, Godly Play. Youth are serving in worship as acolytes and soon, we hope as regular readers. We ask for your patience, support and willing hands to help shape the something wonderful that is taking place at St. James’. Thanks be to God for the sound of young ones in our midst!
Children in Church
Children bring much richness to the community gathered at worship. They bring news of seeing familiar rituals, they often show an understanding of the mystery of the sacraments lost to many adults, and they take nothing for granted. Children also bring noise, awkward questions, loud toys and confusion. Yet their presence is essential to the growth and vitality of the church. Only in the church’s welcome at its most sacred moments can children learn the truth of St. Paul’s assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Children are welcome at St. James’. But how can we as parents and other interested adults help our children understand and participate in church? What are the chances of sitting with our kids without hearing the word “boring”? a dozen times? Is it possible to increase attention and reduce the din? Some suggestions for action follow below.
COME EARLY to get a good seat, preferably in the front where children can see the liturgical actions. Don’t worry that being right up front will cause later embarrassment. Children (and adults!) are more likely to fidget if they can’t see what’s going on. It’s all right if the littlest ones stand on the pews occasionally to get a good view. We also hope to provide quiet glider rocking chairs for parents/guardians to use as needed.
BEFORE THE CHURCH SERVICE or SUNDAY SCHOOL begins you can quietly talk or walk a bit with your child. Point out the features of the sanctuary, especially those with their very own names (font, lectern, nave, etc.) It is often helpful to remind ourselves that this is sacred space.
SHARE your service leaflet with young readers, and help them follow along. Even the youngest likes to “hold the bulletin? like mom or dad. New readers will be pleased when they discover a phrase or response that they already know by heart. Children are naturally curious about why “we do what we do.”? Whisper explanations where appropriate.
FOLLOW THE LESSONS provided in the bulletin as the lector reads. Since the Episcopal Church follows a lectionary or fixed set of scripture readings, you can look up the texts at home in advanced. To get a list of the up-coming readings, contact the parish office or go to the following web site: http://www.lectionarypage.net/. At the web site, click on the readings on any particular day. Use a simplified children’s Bible for many of the better-known passages.
HYMNS for Sunday are finalized by mid-week (call the parish office Wednesday morning). If you have a piano or other instrument at home, pick out the tunes ahead of time. In church, children can also be assigned to find the appointed hymns in the hymnal.
SPEAK to your children in a whisper close to the ear — they just may copy you by responding in the same quiet way. It helps everyone when you are clear about the behavior you expect in church, especially when stated in a positive way (“We all stand when we sing.”). Resist the impulse to add “OK?” or “All right?” when explaining what’s expected. You’ll be stuck if a child answers “No!”
WE ALL KNOW KIDS who are gifted noise-makers without a single thing in their hands. However, for those who do bring playthings, it helps if they are quiet, soft toys. Snacks are not a part of worship. And stop off for a quick drink of water (and visit to the restroom) before the service.
BE REALISTIC about limits. Little ones cannot be expected to sit quietly all the time. However, children in primary/elementary grades are old enough to participate in the liturgy with your help. Take time at home to memorize some common prayers and responses to help these younger church members to feel included.
SOMETIMES, despite our best efforts, children act up and seem to bother everyone around them. Don’t feel embarrassed if you need to take your child out of the service for a few moments–everybody has a bad day occasionally. You might take a little walk outside on the church grounds. If nothing will do but to go home, you know that the church will be here tomorrow and next week, always glad to see you back.
We thank our friends at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC for help with the above “Children in Church” material. Used with permission.