A Gathering Voices Post by Lara Blackwood Pickrel
He stood in front of the communion table, beaming out at worshipers while reciting a liturgy known by heart. When he was finished, from behind the table she lifted her arms high, straining to raise the hearty loaf to a place of prominence and honor. When both bread and cup had been blessed, we came forward and met the smiling eyes of their brother who helped to serve the holy meal. The service was tender, joyful - one of the most meaningful I've experienced in ages (and as a Disciples of Christ pastor, that says a lot because we Disciples really love our weekly celebrations of the Lord's Supper).
Can you picture it, a sacramental meal filled with so much love? What if I told you that those three "celebrants" were under the age of seven; that their clergy-parents were presiding at the table, while they stood or were held and participated alongside them? Would that change things?
There's a fair chance that it might.
I've always thought that children should be welcomed and fully engaged in our worship services - and that it is a good thing to hear little ones as we gather in a sanctuary or other holy space. Of course, that could be because I don't have any kids. I welcome the sounds of their young voices because their presence helps to make my experience of creation all the more whole.
As it turns out, including children in worship is a somewhat divisive issue in many congregations. To some it seems like it should be simple, that we should take a stand and say: "It doesn't matter that kids get fidgety and noisy. They belong here. We need children in our worship spaces/times because we are incomplete without them and because they are precious in the eyes of God. Children shouldn't learn that worshiping-God-space is adults-only space."
But it's not always simple - especially for parents of little ones. What about the father who needs a break, who loves his daughter but also needs a pocket of silence in order to worship and reconnect with the Divine? What about the single or stay-at-home mom, up to her ears in frustrated exhaustion, who counts on that hour's worth of Sunday stillness to regroup, recharge and prepare for another week? What about what parents and other care-givers need?
And there is so much diversity of experience present:
- Some parents DO want time apart from their children so that they can worship.
- Some children ARE more of a "handful" (for whatever reason, be it psychological/medical or otherwise, some kids really are disruptive).
- Some adults ARE hyper-sensitive and even grumpy about normal kid noise.
- Some kids pay attention to sermons and liturgy better than most adults.
- Some adults love the presence of children in the worship space.
- Some churches aren't able to provide childcare, so parents have no choice but to attend worship with their kids (if they want to attend worship at all).
Meanwhile, in the midst of all these realities (as well as all the other examples and rationales I didn't have space to list), Jesus cries out from the Gospels: "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." (Luke 18:16, NRSV)
I don't have any answers to this issue, other than to say that it is complicated. As a pastor, I find myself living in the tension that exists between all these interconnected needs and people, between my own theology and our actual practice of worship.
And at the same time, in the midst of that tension, I can't help but shake the power and the joy of that communion service. I can't get those earnest little lips mouthing the liturgy, those small but resolutely-reaching hands, those smiling eyes out of my heart. We may not always agree on how to include children in our worship of God, but in my heart of hearts I fervently hope that the Kin-dom of God looks like that.
- Do you include children in worship? If so, how? If not, why?
- How can we balance and honor the diverse needs of all the people in our community?