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.

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