Whispers in the pews

I love Carolyn Brown and her suggestions for creating space for children to engage in all-church worship. I took one of those suggestions this week. I handed out sheep stickers to each child (and one beloved adult) after the opening prayer. Each time the children heard the words “sheep” or “shepherd” they put a sticker in the bulletin.

There were, no exaggeration, at least 20 references to sheep and shepherds between the prayers, Scriptures, and sermon. And I noticed that every time I heard one of those words our 30 or so children would whisper excitedly “sheep! sheep!” Each time this little wave of excitement and joy washed through the congregation. And I thought, this is how God wants to be worshiped.

Later I came across this quote from Frederick Buechner that confirmed my suspicion.

Phrases like worship service and service of worship are tautologies. To worship God means to serve God. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for God that God needs to have done—run errands for God, carry messages for God, fight on God’s side, feed God’s lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for God that you need to do—sing songs for God, create beautiful things for God, give things up for God, tell God what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in God and make a fool of yourself for God the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.

A Quaker meeting, a pontifical High Mass, the family service at Zion Episcopal, a Holy Roller happening—unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful.

-Wishful Thinking (and later in Beyond Words)

I get a little weary when I hear about how children don’t “get anything” out of worship. Someone said that again to me today – that worship is “over their heads.” I wonder about that impetus to “get it.” It seems like the amazing thing is that we’re all in a little bit over our heads. We sit in the face of these mysteries and we slowly figure out what it means to love God in the way God wants to be loved. And we try to put our bodies in a way that we can hear this story and sing these songs and pray these prayers. Sometimes we get so excited to find this word, to hear “shepherd” float up to the surface in this sea of words, that we’re foolish and giddy about it. That seems like good worship to me.

A Visual Lord’s Prayer

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At the end of August Carolyn Brown of Worshiping With Children pointed out that in the lectionary we could find Scriptures that illuminated the different parts of the Lord’s Prayer. It was amazing to see. Each week the Scripture connected to a different line of the prayer Jesus taught us.

Like a lot of liturgical churches, we say the Lord’s Prayer every week but we don’t usually spend time reflecting on or teaching the prayer. It seemed like Common Time, the teaching time of the church year, was the perfect opportunity.

Each week our children constructed a Pew Project based on one of the lectionary texts. I took these projects and turned them into banners. This was an awesome challenge. I had to find projects children could do in their seats during just the sermon portion (20 minutes) that connected with the Scripture and would look good and fitting in our sanctuary. But somehow I pulled it off.

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Something I loved about this series was that our children’s art became a visual prayer for our congregation. They helped us pray better because they showed us what we were praying. I will never pray the Lord’s Prayer again without seeing a kingdom of swing sets,  the temptations brought on by our fears of snakes, lightning, and monsters, and butterflies floating away with my anger.

We jumped around because the Scriptures weren’t in the same order as the prayer. So I hung eight white banners and each week added a new piece of the prayer. I also added a week for World Communion Sunday.

Aug 31           Proper 17 – Hallowed be thy Name
-The story of Moses before the burning bush. Children made shoes and fire as we remembered the ways that God’s name is special, unique and holy.

Sept 7            Proper 18 – Thy Kingdom Come…
-We talked about Jesus’ saying about the kingdom, and we talked about what it would look like when the kingdom of God comes. Children drew something that would be in God’s kingdom and we made a kingdom on our banner.

Sept 14          Proper 19 – Forgive us…as we forgive others
-This was the week we were taught to forgive 70 times 7 (or 77 times). We made 77 butterflies so we could see what that many times looked like. We practiced squeezing our palms together and letting go of our anger (along with the whole congregation).

Sept 21          Proper 20 – Give us this day our daily bread
-This week we heard the story about manna in the wilderness. The children received little pieces of “manna” and a puzzle piece. They glued their manna to their piece and I put them back together. What we saw was our manna – the bread and cup of Communion.

Sept 28          Proper 21 – Thy Will be Done
-We heard the story of the water out of the rock of Horeb. The children drew pictures of water on strips of cloth and we talked about how God so often does things in a way we don’t expect.

Oct 5              Proper 22 – “Our Father” (World Communion Sunday)
-God took care of Jesus because God was Jesus’ Father. God feeds us, too, when we have Communion. God feeds people all over the world! Children drew a picture of a person in their lives who takes care of them (mother, grandparents, foster parent, father, etc).

Oct 12            Proper 23 – Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil
-Golden calf was the primary Scripture this Sunday. We had the children make pictures out of gold paper of things that made them afraid. Fear makes us stop trusting God and we need God to “get us out of here!” when we are so afraid because we can’t trust on our own.

Oct 19            Proper 24 – Thine is … the glory
-We talked about how this part isn’t in the prayer, but that the first Christians added this prayer because they needed to be reminded that God could answer these prayers. We looked at the psalm and all the different words that are used to describe this faithful God. The children wrote their words to describe God on paper and I typed them out and added them onto banner. My favorite – “Wow”