The Three Year Old Liturgist: An Intergenerational Advent Story

This story from friend of LECFamily Rev. Brian Johnson, pastor of Tomoka UMC in Ormond Beach, FL, embodies what intergenerational culture (not just ministry) is all about ... 

On Sunday morning, my infant son Sam was not feeling good. It seems he caught the "funk" going around. My wife Melanie and three-year-old daughter Addison were ready for church, but Sam was still taking a much-needed nap.

Melanie told Addison Sam was not feeling well, and they might not make it to church in time, but Addison insisted she really wanted to go. I swung home before the 10:30 service started to pick up Addison. After all, who says, "no" when a kid says, "I want to go to church!"

Mel, Addison, and I talked about how it would work. She would sit up front, with me, or with some of the church members she was comfortable with. She chose to be with me. I thought, well, Tomoka has a stated vision of being an "intergenerational congregation of faith," so let's do this!

I pulled a chair from the choir loft, placing it next to my chair on the chancel area. She brought her "pack-pack" and water bottle and sat down. The choir welcomed her. I led the welcome and announcements, and we listened to Mr. Squirt read the opening scripture. He read the promise from Isaiah, "and a little child shall lead them..." I chuckled under my breath.

We watched a youth light the Advent candles. I whispered to Addison that tonight, we will light our second Advent candle at home. We sang, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" holding hands and she swayed back and forth ... like me. I tried to quietly cue her to what was happening in worship. She came down with me for the children's moment with the other kids.

Then, it was time for the sermon, I quietly asked if she wanted to sit with Ms. Joan or in the front pew. She wanted to stay "up top."

She did so well during the sermon. She wiggled a little, but no more than can be expected from a three-year-old. Then, about halfway through my sermon, she walks up next to me, and holds my hand. I smile, and continue preaching. She pulls my stole, and I can tell she has something important to say. I quickly hit the "mute" on my mic, lean down, and listen ... "I really have to go potty." I say, "Great! okay, Ms. Joan will take you." She scurries off and they exit the sanctuary.

I finish preaching, and Addison finishes the sermon, as well as the rest of the service happily sitting in the front pew. During Communion (one of her favorite parts every week), she is helped up front, stands/kneels at the railing, and I get to give her the bread and the cup. The body and blood of Christ ... for her.

It was not the morning I planned, but I would not trade it for anything. The opportunity to worship side-by-side with my daughter was a gift. Each Sunday I look forward to asking her what stood out to her that day, but this Sunday I experienced it with her, and she with me. I appreciate the church for understanding (I shared at the beginning that she was helping because her brother was sick, and she wanted to come to worship). As Addison and I greeted people on the way out, I deeply appreciate everyone who thanked or encouraged her for helping today. Instead of the message, "You are not welcome here, you are too young!" I believe she heard, "We are so glad you could help in worship today!"

Reflecting back, I think of the first Christian communities meeting mostly in homes. There had to be kids around during the scripture reciting, or climbing a leg during the message. I bet they danced when songs were sung. Church with kids means there are more distractions, and we as adults have to pay attention harder. But, we have to keep creating space for new people, including kids.

Welcoming kids, and youth, into worship is one way, especially this time of year, to welcome Jesus. By making a child feel comfortable and welcome in worship, and helping them to worship also, we create a welcome space for Jesus, who came to us a baby, and was, at one time, a three-year-old too.

"The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them."
Isaiah 11:6 CEB