From the Rector…
“Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight!” When we were little girls, my sister and I would often shout this cheer on our way to or from church. My parents would tell us we weren’t supposed to fight in church (though she and I occasionally “tossed elbows” in the pew). I think that we associated that particular cheer with the liturgical calisthenics we participated in each week. And, to a certain extent, I still associate it with church today.
Liturgical calisthenics, or Pew Aerobics as Robin Williams famously named them, contribute in particular ways to our worship as do the words we use and the various symbols we see. Liturgy in the Episcopal Church is designed to be a full contact sport…errr, worship. Part of that rests in our belief that the more senses we ignite in worship the more connected we are to that worship and subsequently to our faith and God. Episcopal worship is not easy, but it is fulfilling.
For parents, having children in the pew can be especially challenging. Our liturgy requires a certain amount of attentiveness. Children are not the most attentive people in church. Parents who spend a good deal of time wrangling their children in church find their attention drawn from the actual service and may feel like they are either left behind and trying to catch up or that they have simply missed something and hope their presence counts for enough in the eyes of the Lord. First—yes. Presence always counts in the eyes of the Lord. The church would hope that those who come to worship would be fully engaged and connected but understands that is not always possible due to distractions—whether they are other people or the mental, emotional, and spiritual weight we bring with us to church. I believe there is something more that parents, and the congregation at large, get to engage in with children. I believe children offer us a more fulfilling and richer community when they are present at worship and they are an opportunity for us to remember the whats, whys, and hows of worship when we begin to engage them in liturgy.
Each week parents receive an email from the church called “Pew Tips”. These are not tips on how to keep children quiet in the pew. They are weekly tips that help explain what various parts of our worship and liturgy are. The tip has a “Before Church”, “During Church’, and “After Church” section that gives an outline as well as a narrative discussion format for parents to engage and teach children about Episcopal liturgy. As a matter of fact, the “During Church” piece requires talking in church.
Pew Tips is meant to be an opportunity for parents to engage children and youth in worship by teaching them about various aspects of the service and encouraging them to connect into the liturgy in particular ways. For instance, one of the Tips is all about acolytes. Most youth are already familiar with who the acolytes are and what their responsibilities might be, but children and even some parents may not be. The tip on acolytes helps clarify those things for the parent’s knowledge and the child’s spiritual development. The lesson offered in the Pew Tip for that week is also offered at Children’s Church as well. In this way, children are exposed to the teaching from various angles in order to explore the liturgy in greater depth.
One of the greatest joys I know is children in church—just check out the incredible painting by Tim Vaught that the Vestry presented me with on my fifth anniversary as Rector at CoA. To have children in the pew, sitting in the chancel for the homily, and gathered around the altar for Communion must make Jesus smile. I know their presence by their soft sounds, whispers, and even their crying—and I love it all. If those noises didn’t exist, it would be a sad day for the church, and we would be a dying church. The noises of our families remind us how alive and well we truly are.
Children are always welcome in church. Jesus even says about them that, “the one who welcomes these little ones, welcomes me.” (Mark 9:37) Pew Tips are not simply a way to help children engage, they are a way to welcome them into the church by teaching them about the service and giving them opportunities to be a part of the liturgy. If you would like to know more about Pew Tips, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Light and Life,