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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Children's Spirituality and Worship

Not all of us are at the RevGalBlogPals Big Event! For those of us who are at home and work this week, we have a great topic to discuss - children's spirituality and worship. As a minister and as a mother, this is a topic I'm deeply interested in, as I imagine many of you are. Here's our question this week:

In mid-March, I am leading a mini-seminar on children's spirituality and worship with children; the participants predominantly will be seminarians preparing for ordination as deacons or priests. I will have three 2-hour blocks of time available. I've asked them what they'd particularly like to know, but oftentimes we aren't aware of what we don't know until we're in the midst of it. I would be delighted to hear from the Matriarchs and Friends about what they wish they'd known on these topics, as well as what they'd still like to learn.

Jennifer responds:
I am enriched in my own learning and service with children by Carolyn Brown’s Let the Children Come resources, which are lectionary-based. She also has a blog that’s easily reached through The Text This Week website.   Lib Caldwell’s books on nurturing the faith of children and youth (Come Unto Me, Making a Home for Faith, and Leaving Home with Faith are her three wonderful books.)  Forgive me for not providing links.   It’s been a busy week with kids for me!

And Terri writes: 
When working with children I have found the following helpful: engage all their senses and invite them into the worship experience by teaching them ahead of time what all the components are, what they mean, and why we do them: altar, lectern, pulpit, paraments and vestment, chalice and paten, tabernacle or ambry, baptismal font, chancel steps, as well as the elements of worship – prayer, scripture, sermon, holy communion, singing, kneeling, crossing, and so on. Kids are more invested in worship when they understand how the things we do and say are intended to help us be more connected to God.  

I like to walk the kids around the worship space at the beginning of each liturgical season and invite them to notice what colors we are using and what is different from the previous season, and why? We talk about the life of Jesus and how that is reflected in what we do as we celebrate the seasons of the church year from Advent to Pentecost and Ordinary time. In particular I like to involve the kids in Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week (especially Maundy Thursday foot washing and Good Friday stations of the cross). So for example on Ash Wednesday I gather the kids and their at a time that works for them (usually after school around 4pm). I talk about the ways we human beings tend to hurt one another (bullying, etc) and how we can even be mean to ourselves (by diminishing our worth). I connect this to Ash Wednesday as a day when we remember what we have done to hurt others and hurt ourselves. Then I talk about how the ashes are a reminder that we are just human, just simple, like dirt, like ashes, but in that simpleness is God, who loves us and forgives us. Lent is a season for us to think about all the ways we are broken and hurt and cause hurt, and to remember all the ways that God loves us and wants us to be the best people we can be. Celebrating the ways God loves us is what happens on Easter. I try to do similar things with Easter and Christmas – invite kids into the mystery of the season in ways that will appeal to their imagination and senses. 

The specific way each congregation and the kids engage in this will vary even as some things you do will be transferable from one congregation to the next. Also there are all kinds of resources to help fill out ideas we have and develop them more fully, such as ideas from Godly Play or Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and ideas from Leader Resources.  Most of all – have fun and help the kids have fun too!

What rich responses from our Matriarchs. Thank you! What about the rest of you? What do you wish you have known about children's spirituality and worship as you entered ministry? What has worked for you in your current congregation and in the past? And what do you still wish you knew more about? Please join the conversation in the comments section.

We are low on questions in the queue, so if you have an issue you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, now would be a great time to send it in to askthematriarch[at]gmail[com].


  1. I sit on the floor with the children when I do a Children's Sermon. I leave my mic on, but do not project my voice, because I don't want the little ones to feel as if I'm shouting at them.

    With my son, I've worked hard to keep the promises we made at baptism and share our efforts with those whose children I baptize. Our night-time routine is to recite The Ten Commandments, The Apostles' Creed, and The Lord's Prayer before singing "Away in a Manger" and tucking him into bed. In this way, he is learning the basics of his faith in the loving arms of his parents, rather than having the memorization forced on him as part of Confirmation instruction in his teen years.

    We present the God Loves Me Bible ( to all babies who are baptized here. It's a wonderful first Bible for parents to read to their children; every page has the reminder that God loves the child!

    My son sits up front in the chancel with me during worship. It made some people uncomfortable at first (still does, I'm sure) but doing this allows him to sit beside his mother, like all the other kids. I have another little girl (she's 2) who also wants to sit up front with the pastor. With her mother's approval, I let her. She can see things that she can't see from her pew. (She also sits more quietly for "the pastor" than for her mother, which amuses both mommy and me.)

    However the children are able to participate, I'm willing to let them. (Still working on the congregation's comfort level with that, though.)

    I've been known to use Children's Sermon time to teach the children liturgical stuff, too. It's not difficult for the children to learn the appropriate response to "The Lord be with you," (for example) if it's used before I pray and send them back to their parents at the end of our time together.

    I'm sure there's more.......much of it is so ingrained in me that I don't think about it until someone asks about it.

  2. Beth, I really love your ideas. Thank you for sharing them!

  3. thanks so much for all the great ideas shared!
    one summer i connected the children to our support of an african orphanage. being the same ages as the orphans,i began with the relational connxn, discovering their names, activities and needs - housing, beds - we then decided how the children would be able to actively participate in supporting them. we decided to made nobake cookies/slices, offering them at the end of morning worship - not for sale, we offered them for donation! amazing response! from the children, the adults and most of all from the orphans themselves! who responded via the african pastor's email, telling of their prayers and gratitude for each child involved on their behalf... beautiful!
    i also took time each week while the baking set, to discuss the spiritual connxn of what we were doing as responding to Jesus call to love, care, give, support, advance God's Gospel and kingdom...
    lessons learned all around ")
    could do the same with the samaritan's purse 'shoeboxes' or something local where the children personally connect at a heart level-maybe a camp or safehouse/shelter for children of family violence ..
    bless you in your efforts!

  4. In my experience children are open to experiencing God and the holy in a way that many adults are not. We often think that the liturgy is "over their heads" and that they need to "understand" what is going on, but (again, ime) they absorb a lot just being present during church and being brought to the rail for communion..and receiving as soon as they are able.

    That said,I agree with all that Beth and Teri said, and do some of the same/similar things. This week we will have a children's Ash Wednesday Liturgy and we will talk about ashes (which hopefully the kids will have seen made the night before) and forgiveness. I have a children's "stations of the cross" (from Liturgy for the Whole Church by Susan K. Bock) that we will do later in Lent, and we will have a children's liturgy on Good Friday as well. I encourage parents to bring their kids to the Easter Vigil even though it's a later night because it is so dramatic and experiential.

    I also do a children's Eucharist which we call "Joy Mass" -- it's child friendly without being too watered down and really a great service. At my former parish we did it once a month, but here I haven't gotten it on a regular schedule yet.

    I've been meeting with our church school kids when they gather on Sunday mornings (it's a small group) and I'm surprised by how few of them know any prayers or meal blessings from home, so I've been teaching them some and encouraging them to use them at home. What this says to me is that some of these parents were perhaps un- or under-churched themselves and could use some guidance in nurturing their kids' spiritual growth.

  5. Thank you Faith/Hope/Cherrytea! Wonderful! I have found that the children in our congregation respond particularly well to this sort of thing - missional emphases with a focus on children in need.

    Great ideas! Keep them coming!

  6. Rev. Dr. Mom, you and I were writing at the same time. Thank you for your great thoughts! I think you've really hit on something so true - part of what needs to happen to nurture children's spirituality is for the church to actively nurture the spirituality of their parents, and of families as a whole.

    During Advent and Lent, our church puts up a resource table that has adult devotional resources, children's resources, and family resources. The family resources are great! But I wonder if our church could be even more proactive, maybe doing whole family workshops on nurturing faith in the home.

  7. A few years ago our Children's Ministry Director came up with the idea of having the Children lead the worship service. They led everything from the music to giving testimonies to doing "time with adults". It's become a yearly event in the church and one that the children and the congregation look forward too.

    It might be a stretch for some, but it could be a good stretch!

  8. I work as a chaplain at a children's hospital, and have led several sessions on children's spirituality (although not necessarily linked to worship). I've gone over Fowler's stages of faith, which I think is a helpful background, but am more interested in--and the groups to which I present are more interested in--they way that Hay and Nye, two researchers from the University of Nottingham, outline children's spiritual aptitudes. They come out of the education department, and their book is called "The Spirit of the Child." They talk about children expressing their innate spirituality through "awareness-sensing" "relationship-sensing" and "mystery-sensing." They have ideas--and you can come up with more--of how to tap into each of the aptitudes and nurture them. I've found it really resonates with adults of all-and-no religious traditions, who can also see their own spiritual lives and practices reflected in those categories.
    Good luck!

  9. Thanks for all your comments and ideas; I will definitely use them! I've been at this quite a while, but there are always more great things out there, and some of what I do automatically I don't even think about any more, so it doesn't occur to me to incorporate it in my teaching.

    I'd welcome any more thoughts any of you have :-)

  10. Posting rather late, but... I agree with everything said here about the ability and desire of children to participate and understand much more than we often expect. Our church also has a Children's Sunday - and we are actually bold enough to name their preaching "sermons." Throughout that service we are reminded that even the little ones have responsibility in the church to speak the truth and to show love - and we have the responsibility to accept their ministry. Our children also participate in every infant baptism, after which they receive thanks for helping to lead worship. A wonderful way to remind them of their baptisms and to remind the rest of us that they are just as much members of the body as we are. They are not only our children, they are out brothers and sisters in Christ.

  11. I'm coming to this very late, but Rebecca Nye's book Children's Spirituality is excellent:


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