Your column on
how to lay out the church when reordering raised many questions for
us, but our biggest question is about children. Should we have a
children's corner? Is there a good rationale to help us think this
START from the premise
that children are baptised members of the body of Christ. Although
they are young and fidgety, their formation as Christians is
fundamental to how we relate to them. At each stage, and at each
age, what are we doing to form them in their faith?
First, we should consider
that worship is the worship of all the people, not just an adult
service with sops thrown in for children. But neither can we ignore
the challenge of worship that is appropriate to help adults grow in
their faith; so it is not a question of "dumbing down".
The biggest challenge is
for rapidly growing family-service congregations, as there may not
be a pool of families, leaders, and clergy who have learned how to
engage children in worship. Children who run loose, avoiding any
restraint, gain very little - as do their parents.
Is a children's
play-corner the answer? I would say no.
Beginning with first
principles in planning the worship: can we choose hymns, prayers,
and movement in which children will be engaged as well as adults?
Not dumbed-down hymns and songs, but music that engages the mind
and heart - some of the great traditional hymns, perhaps, that we
can sing wholeheartedly.
Movement and action
engage everyone more than trying to be still. (Often I have been to
family services where people just sit - even for the hymns.) And
always give children service sheets and hymn books, along with
everyone else, so that they can follow what is going on.
When considering seating,
encourage those with young children to sit at the front, or at
least somewhere where they have the best view of what is happening.
Encourage people with children to come forward, and explain that if
a child is fractious, he or she can be taken to the back for a few
minutes, or outside, until they are ready to return. You may have
regular members, who are cleared under child-protection procedures,
who can help out.
The one part of the
service for which you may have to separate adults and children is
the sermon. It is good to hear the scriptures together, but the
teaching of adults and children may be different. And, as one who
believes "I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I
understand," I like to find something that everyone can do together
to earth the teaching of the day.
We are always working
towards formation in our faith, but this is more difficult, in some
ways, for those who plan worship. When you are the priest at the
front, trying to lead people in their engagement with God, a minor
riot that is going on at the back of the church can be more than
Use a "children's
corner", occasionally, for separate sermons, or for fractious
children; but, on the whole, work towards inclusion and formation
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