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

Guest Post: Children as Worship Leaders

by Glenys Nellist

I did something in church this morning that I have never done before. I received communion from a fourth grader. It touched by heart. 

This is the body of Christ, broken for you,
he said shyly, as he carefully lifted the plate of bread towards me. 

I watched as he served his mom and dad, his little brother, his grandma, his friends, and their parents. Occasionally he looked up to the pastor just to make sure he was doing everything right. He was.

This ten year old boy- who could just as well have been at home playing video games- had already led us in the opening prayer; given out certificates to new members; welcomed them with a hand shake; read the passage of scripture from the Bible he was presented with in third grade, and helped the pastor prepare the elements for communion. 

And as he took his place at this altar, next to candles, and choirs, and bread, and wine, where sermons have been preached for years and years, and babies have been baptized, and people have knelt before Christ-  I couldn't help but wonder how experiences like this would help to shape this young man's life, and to kindle a sense of the sacred in his soul.

And I couldn't help but wonder, as he held his third grade Bible and read, 
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God....
if he knew that he was talking about himself.

How does your church intentionally engage children in leading worship?

This was originally published here and was reposted with permission.

A GUARANTEED way to get kids listening to the Sunday sermon ...

Are you listening now? Are you in disbelief? Are you still terrified of what might happen if you allow kids to be in worship - and I mean ALL of worship? Yes - gasp! - even the dreaded sermon?

Take a page from Tusakwilla UMC in Casselberry, FL, where their pastor has a passion for intergenerational ministry and did a little intergenerational worship experiment this Advent and Christmas season!

As my ministry intern and I were planning Advent last year we made the bold decision not to offer Children’s Church from the First Sunday of Advent through Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. Six weeks – no Children’s Church. Why? Because we felt it was important for our youngest worshippers to worship with their families and the church family as together we all heard and experienced formational Scriptures to our faith. Our God is coming. Our God is with us. Our God is love. Emmanuel. 

In making the decision to not offer Children’s Church, we knew that we would need to supplement the worship experience for the children in our congregation. So, we set about gathering activities that would invite the children to engage in worship in the pews. We found the usual puzzle pages and coloring sheets, but we wanted something more. And then I had an idea that bubbled up with great excitement! “What if,” I said “we played Advent BINGO? What if we made BINGO cards incorporating words that might be used during the worship service so that the children have to stay engaged to listening throughout the service in order to complete their card?” From idea to reality, Advent BINGO came to TUMC. 

Through the help of an online BINGO card generator we were able to customize our BINGO cards each week. I advised the congregation that the children had the cards at the beginning of worship on the First Sunday of Advent so if they heard a “BINGO,” there was a purpose behind it. After the first week we learned that we needed to limit the “game” to the sermon as some children were achieving BINGOs before we offered the Pastoral Prayer. After the first week in worship children asked for multiple BINGO cards. After the second week in worship adults asked for BINGO cards! 

I was amazed at the words that the children recalled hearing in the sermon and their delight as they shared their joy with me warmed my heart. The adults in the congregation were thrilled to see the children so involved, so engaged, and so well behaved in worship. And their parents were grateful to have the opportunity to worship as a family and to not feel stressed during that time in the pew. 

I look forward to using BINGO as a useful tool in worship throughout my ministry. This is not an activity that we have every week in worship, which helps it remain special and fun. I am committed to finding more ways to mindfully and purposively engage our children in worship. What do you do in your congregation? What is something old that you can make new and apply it to our worship experience?

— Rev. Sarah B. Miller, Senior Pastor – Tuskawilla UMC, Casselberry, FL

Wow! What an incredible story of being creatively inclusive. How have you incorporated kids into worship in your church in a way that is inclusive?

Questions about how Sermon Bingo works? Email info@lecfamily.org for more info!

Looking for more ways to be intergenerational in faith formation experiences? Contact us about our workshops for pastors, leaders, parents and families!

Intergenerational Worship Wars Part 1: What happened?

Rev. Melissa Cooper, Program Coordinator

If you've engaged the "intergenerational" conversation at all, you know what I'm talking about. 

Most folks are open to trying out intergenerational programs. Most parents love getting a take-home sheet from Sunday School (they may or may not use it, but they're glad to get it!). A potluck or church-wide supper is always a hit. 

But there's one place where things come off the rails when we talk intergenerational: worship

It's ironic, really, because when age-level ministries were being developed, and as they became an expected part of the congregational experience, there was one "assumed" thing: worship was for the whole community!

Now, however, we live in a culture of Christian silos, with congregations primarily segregated by age, sometimes even in entirely different buildings! The larger the church, generally the more segregated we become, too.

And in that bastion of intergenerationality, the Sunday morning community worship service, even there, many of our churches have again separated. One pastor commented to me, "Most of the children have probably never seen me."

Although overwhelmingly pastors, parents and ministry leaders agree that it's important for kids to worship, the conversation becomes contentious when the topic of kids in "big church" comes up.  

The greatest opponents of kids in congregational worship are no longer the classic, cartoonish "grumpy old folks" - most often those who most vigorously support "Children's Church" are the parents of the children themselves.  

However, the importance of children in worship with the rest of their church community cannot be overstated: they need to be present in worship, and they need to be there for more than just a few minutes of singing.  

The fabulous research done by the Fuller Youth Institute tells us that the most common thread among high school and college aged students who were found to have mature faith was intergenerational worship experiences. 

It's not done easily, and it's worth doing. Over the next few posts, we'll be exploring the most common arguments against intergenerational worship and why it's important we find ways to overcome the challenges faced in re-integrating the worship experience for all ages. 

So, what are the most common arguments you hear against all-ages in worship? Share in the comments!