Churches Celebrating Kids
Without further fuss, here is Carol's article...and DON'T forget to check out WOTW on The Geranium Farm! Thank you, Carol, for this contribution.
Maybe churches honor the kids in their parishes all the time and I've just been unconscious somehow. Not likely. Maybe this spring there's something in the air that's prompting greater attention to them. A good kind of attention: not flattery and not criticism, but genuine and sincere recognition of their worth as people. What a wonderful, wholesome message for the churches to exemplify. I've attended three churches in recent weeks and each one has done something special . . .
At my home church in Brooklyn, two of our high-schoolers were confirmed a couple of weeks ago in a regional service with at least 75 others. They and their Mom described what a special, spirit-filled experience it was for all of them. Caroline and Margaret both read a lesson at our Eucharist the next morning. And last Sunday, they joined their Mom in walking the AIDS Walk as part of a team representing the parish.
In a suburban congregation outside Kansas City, Missouri, the Rector is just beginning to have young people serve as Acolytes. The church has not had processions before as part of its usual routine, so the kids have not seen much about how this works. But they are learning to take their cues and to walk with dignity and presence. The liturgy there will be enhanced by their active participation.
Finally, my other home church, St. Mary's in Hampton Bays, New York, decided this year to honor young Communicants in a new way. Thirteen kids –nine boys, notably, and four girls – attended classes about the Eucharist taught by the Rector and her husband (also a priest). Last Sunday morning, Trinity Sunday, they were all at the main service with their families. All the families came out: aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grandparents and on and on. The place was packed and there were folding chairs in the center aisle.
The event was called a "Solemn Communion Ceremony". It wasn't a "first communion" because many of the children have been receiving for some time, but now they are fully aware of the import of what that means for them. The kids were clearly in touch with the solemnity theme: fine clothes and serious demeanor. They too, as the ones in Kansas City, conducted themselves with dignity and maturity. Each one stepped forward individually to sign the parish register, enrolling as a Communicant; they went unaccompanied as they made perhaps the first official act of their young lives. One mother stood up at her place, honoring her son as he did this. Each family approached the Altar together for Communion, including one group so numerous, they filled the entire rail.
"What do you have when you have God inside you?" Mother Bernadette Sullivan asked in her sermon. "You can expect amazing things to happen: you will have courage when you need courage, strength when you need strength, perseverance when you need that and love when you need love," she promised them. It was a message aimed at the kids, but clearly intended for the adults to take heart from as well. We did.
Such an outpouring of spirit and pride we all felt for the kids and for their families. What an affirmation of them. They, in turn, obviously took this day and their studies leading up to it with great seriousness and deliberation. It marked the beginnings of being grown-up. As they stood in front of us, Mother B spurred our applause by asking us to greet "Grace Unfolding!"
It was also an affirmation of the Church, wasn't it, and all the Church stands for. This was no rote ritual for either the parish or the kids, but a celebration of our community with each other and with God.
We hear from the social scientists who study religion that the churches which highlight their young people and involve them visibly in their work and worship experience more growth.* Yes, indeed, and their people experience more of the power and the joy in the Holy Spirit and they feel greater assurance and optimism for the Church of Tomorrow. Amen.
*Geranium Farm's Ways of the World, February 4, 2008 and February 19, 2008.
Mother Bernadette describes the preparation program:
Life in the Eucharist - A Communion Program for Children by The Anglican Church of Canada. Purchased through Forward Movement Publications from the Anglican Book Centre, Toronto, Canada ISBN0-919891-46-2. It is a child and parent book with an extensive parent guide in middle.
The illustrations are great - both realistic and imaginative. The pictures fostered an inclusive and diverse view of church. There are references to Christians in other nations, other ethnicities. The children loved the cartoon bible stories, especially about Jesus. There is good reinforcement through the book's activities.