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I Like Children's Church

If you’ve never had the privilege to witness or participate in children’s church, allow me to describe it: In the midst of Sunday meeting, after song and prayer and scripture reading, responsive or otherwise, just prior to the homily, the minister invites the children to the altar. There, he sacrifices them to Moloch. When they are gathered, he invites them to sit, and he sits with them on the floor or in a chair put there for this very reason. Certainly, for him to sit on the floor is undignified, and certainly Mrs. Standup Proper frowns upon him as he settles, but he stares her down, and as he sits he begins to tell a story. The story is usually a retelling of the day’s scripture, and it is often relevant to the homily. If the minister is good, he also leads them in a song or two, and he asks them questions to invite them into the narrative and the lesson. Speaking to his audience directly, intimately, he engages imaginations. Sometimes, because some parents impose on their kids a Sunday sabbath from Ritalin, kids stare at the walls or look anywhere but at the pastor; however, staring into space is true, too, of adults, so the distraction of a few is hardly worth concern. Ten, fifteen minutes later, the minister sends the children back to their parents, or he delivers them into the hands of a volunteer who shuffles them to a room where they will be sacrificed to Moloch to a daycare or special class that continues the lesson the minister began.

I first witnessed children’s church in New York, when, while visiting Kathy’s parents, we attended a Disciples congregation in Henrietta. I saw it again this past Sunday at the downtown UCC, where the pastor told the story of Mark 2.1ff. and cast it as a story of good friendship. Sunday I realized what I like about children’s church: it insists that a congregation’s kids are vital to the congregation’s worship. And beyond directly benefitting the kids, it models for parents as much as for children ways that the gospel may be taught. Children’s church invites the whole congregation to witness to children’s education, not at the expense of worship, but to worship’s benefit.

That said, then, a question: why is it that, in all the Churches of Christ (noninstrumental) in which I have ever visited or been a part, from Arkansas to Alaska to Tennessee to New York to Virginia to Iowa—why is it that I have never seen “children’s church”—or, for the sake of lexical precision (but tragically unalliterative), “children’s worship”—practiced?

The question, I admit, is wholly directed at my own particular history, which is to say that it is in relation to other things I have been thinking about, but might not be directed at your past or your future (e.g. L, or M). Among what traditions is children’s church most commonly practiced? Further, two extensions: if it is not a peculiarity of tradition, is it rather a regional phenomenon, in which Southern churches put their money in their Bible school programs and became enamored of adult liturgy such that there never was a push to see a children’s liturgy begun? Second extension: is it a matter of gender? In traditions where women are given lee to speak only to children, and where men, especially ministers, have “more important” concerns than children’s education, does the argument run, a) women teach children; b) women cannot speak to the gathered; ergo c) children cannot be taught among the gathered?

 

Comments

it’s not regional or gendered—I have seen children’s church in Baptist and Methodist churches in both the South and the Northeast, led by women or men. maybe it is just not c of c.
Have to add that neither Chris nor I would EVER choose the title you did, having spent several Sundays in MA teaching children’s church (the daycare version that occurs immediately after the big-church version). it is hell.

Hmm… so maybe it’s a question of perspective and my own very limited experience—although kl says that her own bringing up, which was Catholic, never participated in CC.

I have wondered what the postcare consists of…. is it class, or babysitting, or is that a stupid question, the answer to which is, of course, “yes”?

sort of like vacation bible school (which we also did pre-Rose—so we feel absolutely no obligation to do it ever again) but worse b/c
1. at our church everyone, esp kids, had donuts and orange juice just prior to services, so the kids were even more ADHD than usual and
2. at vbs there are little breaks built into the schedule and you get to see other adults suffering too. at children’s church, it’s all and only you.

I did VBS once a couple of years ago. The theme was Egyptian, so I dressed as a mummy, rags and all, and stood in a hallway. When I moved, the kids screamed. So the next day, I made a big show of crying. They asked, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I can’t find my mummy!”

The costume wasn’t the same after that.

Ahem. Anyway, back to CC….

I first went to the Episcopal chapel in Mount Vernon when I was quite small, until we quit going because the church started ordaining women, which my father did not approve of. It was an incredibly small congregation, and there was nothing done for kids—when I was baptized, my mother had to provide a punch bowl to use as a baptismal fount. I never had the slightest idea of what church was or why we were there—I just hated it because no one would let me look at the books.

When my mother and I started going to church again in IC, Trinity didn’t have much of a youth program of any kind except for Sunday school, but nowadays they have, in addition to Sunday school, a children’s chapel, which is I think something like a cross between what G. and M. describe—the kids leave right after the lessons and go off to the children’s chapel (led by their very own acolyte), where they get a sort of children’s version of the Gospel and a homily or a story of some sort, and then they are returned to the congregation for Communion.

I was at a Presbyterian church in Michigan that had the kids all come up to the front of the church for a little homily before my cousin’s baptism—and Trinity always invites kids to come watch baptisms up close.

Well. . . as usual, I’ve gone on for longer than I intended. G, you can expect an e-mail in the near future about the great moving party. . . I got in to IC tonight.

We move on your command, L.

And particularly in light of your first experience in Mt. Vernon, I wonder if so much of my unawares about children’s church is because, in spite of numerous one-Sunday stands in churches across the country, I am in fact woefully inexperienced. My primary attending has been to churches either very large (600+) with too many kids to make children’s church feasible, or to churches very small, with few to no kids at all.

Yet, I think there’s a real reticence among CoCs to even entertain such an ideas as would interrupt the primitive liturgy. The rub of it is the notion that children’s church might be seen as interruption at all.

There was a program to take kids out of Sunday night services in the congregation in which I grew up. But Sunday night? Not the same as Sunday morning.

the disciples and the presbyterians down this way do it. however, i have noticed that the more liberal the group the more prone to children’s worship they are. i could be wrong here, but it has been my experience.

the DoC we attend dedicates babies, which is nice (and isn’t a stand in for baptism, which my parents appreciate)...and only parade the children out for children worship on special occasions…the kids come out and entertain. but, then again, where we attend, unfortunately, worship more entertainment than anything else.

and, i think this is partially the fear of the CoC…this and the fact that children are not much until they are baptized…and once baptized, the girls, at least, can’t speak up in church.

is this an unfair characterization?

To say, “children are not much until they are baptized,” may be a bit unfair, but at the same time, is also on mark. Childhood in the CoC could be defined as one long waiting period ‘til the “Age of Accountability,” the achievement of which marks either the nessa baptismal salve or an instant guilt trip into hell.