Of Church and Lobsters

From Gathering to Sending, they participate in worship ... through the prelude, the readings, the sermon, the Meal, the hymns, the prayers, all the way to the postlude. Well, they do in some churches, anyway. Others banish them from the sanctuary before things get too serious, too intense, or maybe just too bothersome to have them around, so it seems. 

I don't understand sending children somewhere else, such as "Children's Church" or the nursery at some point during worship. Granted, I slept through many a sermon as a child, taking everyone standing for the Gospel reading as my cue to curl up in the pew and snooze. But the times I stayed awake, I got something out of it. Like the sermon about lobsters and how when one molts, others gather around it and protect it while it's vulnerable, waiting for it to rebuild it's exoskeleton before it ventures out on its own. I don't remember what Bible reading was being referenced, but I do remember the message that we are here to be a community for each other, to take care of the vulnerable, to love each other, to work together, to be the church (not a building, but a people).

My children have always attended worship from start to finish. The entire service is Children's Church - worship for all of God's Children. My children sometimes get more out of it than me.

One of my children, at age 4 or 5, returned from receiving a blessing at the Communion rail with tears streaming down her face. When I asked Haley what was wrong, she answered, "I feel like I'm missing out on something very special." We spoke with our Pastor about First Holy Communion that day after worship. 
Alia blessing Gramma
My youngest, Alia, has attended worship nearly every Sunday since she was eight days old and attended cross-generational Tuesday Night Sunday School since she was ten days old. From a very young age, she has had amazingly deep things to say on the subject of death (To Dust We Shall Return and There's One More Angel in Heaven are just a couple examples), mostly due to the time she spends experiencing worship in its fullest. She also walked out on a sermon once when she was a mere two years old. Why? Because our Pastor used part of our Tuesday Night Sunday School lesson from the previous Tuesday in his sermon and Alia took offense at having to listen to a repeat of what she already knew. "Pastor already SAID ALL THAT STUFF!" 

Time and time again all of my children have said astoundingly beautiful things or asked thought-provoking questions based on what they gleaned from attending a full worship service.

But... children at worship??? Aren't they disruptive? 

I have five children, two on the autism spectrum. Worship can be challenging for and with children. I've suggested streaming the sermon into the restroom, as that's where I ended up more often than not during the sermon with five small children! With a family member or friend helping them navigate between the bulletin and the worship book, and a little patience (ok, sometimes a lot of patience), it's possible... and totally worth it...to include children in the full worship experience. One learns how to behave properly during worship and grows in faith by watching others, by being involved in worship, and by being recognized as a full and valuable member of the church (not a building, but a people).

What happens to children who are involved fully in the worship experience?

They join the choir (Alia sings with the "adult" choir when it suits her, and Haley has been a full member of the adult choir since she was twelve).

They serve coffee hour, as my eldest Aspie son does. It may just be his penchant for desserts, but it is what he does to be more fully involved in our church family.

They become an acolyte, crucifer, or both (Haley and Zachary serve as both acolyte and crucifer in our church).

Or they fuss and fidget and drive you slightly insane during worship and then totally surprise you with a question or comment regarding a reading or the sermon when you least expect it, as Coren (who happens to have Aspergers and is sensory seeking, making worship a challenge for him), age 10, does. 

Instead of seeing Children's Church as a separate experience, perhaps we need only to gather around and support our children while they develop their worship skills and until they are able to navigate worship on their own. Like lobsters. Sort of. 


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