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

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!