Greetings Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Let the Children Come to Me…
“Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
As a spouse of a military member, we have moved every two years over the last 17 years and therefore worshipped in many congregations. Our children Ava-Marie and Adler have lived in 5 states and they are now 8 years old. We have gone through many stages with them as parents and I will share some of our most welcoming experiences as parents with little ones in worship with you in this article.
As parents of twin babies, we wanted to keep our children with us in worship. However, we wanted to hear the worship, if we had to step out to attend to their needs. St. Matthew Lutheran Church makes this available with the den and the speaker in there. You can even see the worship service through the glass or use the rockers in the foyer. Very welcoming, thanks be to God! For parents who want to use the nursery, Shirley is a blessing and available on Sundays. I praise God for her and the Sunday School teachers and volunteers who answer their baptismal and congregational call to help raise the children in the faith!
As I remember the times we felt our needs were most met as parents desiring to worship with our active little ones, here is what comes to mind:
My favorite image of children participating in worship was when the children were called for-ward to bring food for the hungry to the altar. There seemed to come from every direction a sea of children swarming up to the altar to share food for the hungry out the abundance God had given their families in order to be fed and to love their neighbors as themselves by sharing from that abundance. This was a Catholic church in Northern Virginia.
In southern VA at a Presbyterian church, we worshipped up front with our children, who were guests of a close friend whose child was being baptized. The sanctuary was quite long and to bet-ter include the young children and make them feel part of worship, the church had taken the second row of pews out and added small tables with quiet activities for the little ones to play at, while their parents sat behind them and worshipped, while keeping an eye on their kids. The kids were quietly playing, what little kids enjoy doing, yet able to see what was going on and feel a part of the church worship service.
A Methodist church close to D.C. had all the children sit in the second row with the Children and Family Ministry Director and a volunteer, while the parents sat in another pew, thankfully, able to focus on worshipping God in peace without having to constantly try to appease an active young child. I was so impressed by how still and attentive the children were, as they were able to see and feel a part of worship and be with peers. The children heard the readings, came up for the Chil-dren’s Message and went to Sunday School afterward.
A Lutheran church, I served at in California began with the children in worship, coming for-ward for the children’s message, and going to Children’s Church with the Developer of Children’s ministry (me), where the children participated in leading their own shortened version of worship, lighting candles, reading a short scripture verse, collecting the offering, hearing a children’s mes-sage, praying and then rejoining their families for Holy Communion in the sanctuary.
My children’s favorite church in Arlington, VA, when they were preschool age, was the church that had a gymnasium upstairs in the nursery that had slides and tricycles for them to get their exer-cise and energy out during worship. Another one, allowed children out of the pews to sing and dance to the worship music.
In the small congregation in Alabama, Ava was invited to sing with the adult choir, help the altar guild, and she and Adler served as ushers with adults who welcomed them to join them on their day of service.
In all these situations, children were able to be children, because the congregation responded to Jesus’ call, “Let the little children come to me,” as the Holy Spirit moved them to meet the children and parents were they were and with what they needed, instead of asking them to adapt to the church’s “this is how we have al-ways done it,” mantra, that so many churches sing, as if it were a hymn by a great theologian.
This is just an example of what the Holy Spirit has done in some congregations to answer Jesus’ call to “Let the little children come to me, do not stop them, for to such as these the Kingdom of Heaven belong.”
The altar guild at St. Matthew has opened up to allowing children to serve with them and I give God thanks for their openness to teach children the joy of serving our Lord!
As we continue in this season of transition with Jesus walking beside, guiding, and renewing us with his grace, what is the Spirit calling you and St. Matthew to pray about and act on when it comes to letting the little children come to Jesus? How can we nourish both parents and children and make St. Matthew even more inviting? How can we share the gospel by meeting them where they are, as Jesus does for us?
What are some of your favorite children’s worship experiences you have had or seen as you worshipped elsewhere?
When I first arrived with new eyes of a parent with two 8 year old children and 8 years of experience as a parent with children in worship, the first two things I noticed is that St. Matthew Lutheran Church does not have a playground. Every other Lutheran Church we have worshipped at in the last 5 states we lived in, since being blessed with Ava and Adler has a playground. What a welcoming place for little ones and par-ents to let their children get their wiggles out and connect with other parents after worship. Remembering the fellowship opportunities Mike and I had with little ones, our best was where we were able to fellowship in a full court gymnasium, while the kids played various ball games to include basketball and the parents and other members of the body of Christ drank coffee and ate snacks before leaving for lunch. It was a great way to connect with other families and connect with other members of the church for intergenerational min-istry.
I have proposed to Council two things to pray about and consider for growth: Offer connection opportunities to parents and children after worship and hire a part-time Children and Family Ministry Coordinator. Both require prayer, discernment, and strategic planning to include budget lines and funding. Our new Christian Learning and Formation Chair, Melissa Feeney, has graciously accepted Council’s request to look into the possibility of playground equipment. She is inviting other ministries into this prayerful conversation.
If you have ideas or would like to support Jesus’ vision for St. Matthew to meet children and parents where they are, these days, and continue to share the gospel as a body of Christ with those who are not always present please contact me and cc Melissa.
The grace of our risen Lord and Savior bless and guide you as you pray about and listen for the still small voice of God, for this matter and all matters, small and big in your life in Christ.