Train children in the right way,
and when old, they will not stray. – Proverbs 22:6
Last Sunday as 11am worship began, I noticed Eleanor toddling up the center aisle of the sanctuary with her dad. She’s almost 3 years old and typically sits near the back with her parents and baby brother, but I was excited that she felt comfortable enough with our sanctuary and congregation to come to the front. Since the handbell choir was playing the prelude from the balcony, I crouched down and invited her to sit with me on the chancel steps so that we could look up to see the bells ring. We noticed that the bells Dr. Matt Rushing was playing were almost as big as Eleanor!
As we sat and watched, she upended her worship bag, spilling her Frolic First Bible, ribbon ring, olive wood holding cross and more onto the carpet at our feet. Her dad jumped to tidy up the mess, but Eleanor stopped him. This was NOT an accident. She was getting settled in and ready to worship, right on the front steps of the chancel! My pastor’s heart absolutely SOARED, and I hope yours did too. This is why:**
- Children learn by seeing, and the best place to see what’s happening in wor-ship – especially if you are two-and-a-half feet tall – is in the front! You can see Mr. Brad playing the piano or the organ and Pastor Rob pouring the water. You can turn to look at the congregation and watch them stand to sing or bow their heads to pray. You can see the Bible, the cross, the bread and cup on the communion table, and that’s important.
- Children learn by doing. When you’re up front, you can’t hide and pretend you’re somewhere else. You are right in the middle of the action! When we draw kids into the flow of worship, it makes them less likely to go into their own world. It’s easier to learn the rhythm of prayer and song or know when to be quiet, when your brain and your body are involved.
Children learn to love worship by being in worship. Full stop. Eleanor only stayed up front for about 15 minutes, and then she needed to move, talk, and play and we have other spaces for that in our church. But it’s absolutely vital not only for our children but for our church that the sanctuary and worship have space for kids too.
Because 10 years from now Eleanor is going to be 13, and we want her to be holding a hymnal and singing with us. We don’t even mind if she’s passing notes to her friends or her little brother because 20 years from now she’s going to be 23. We want her to be looking for a church when she starts grad school or her first job, because she loves to sing hymns and read scripture and receive communion. We want these practices to be woven into the fabric of her faith and written upon her heart because she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table. Thirty years from now, we want Eleanor to be serving on a session, and teaching Sunday School, and sitting on the chancel steps with other three-year-olds because the church is important to her. At FPC, she could be doing all those things in 15 years, but we want worship to be an integral part of her life.
Where are you going to be in 10 years? 20 years? In 30 years I hope I’m retired, but if that’s ever going to happen, I need Eleanor to love the church and be loved by the church right now. Most of you couldn’t see this, but during the first hymn Eleanor stood up on the chancel steps and held her board book Bible just like everyone else was holding their hymnals. She watched all of you, and even though she can’t read (words or music), she followed your example. I pray that continues not only in worship, but in faith and in life.
** All of these notes about children learning by seeing, doing, being present and involved– they are true of adults as well. But that’s another article. Stay tuned!