“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.” Matthew 19:13-14
Our parish family at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church includes a number of families with children. The inclusion of these children in worship is of great importance in the life of our Parish. We take seriously the Baptismal vow “to do all in our power to support these persons in their life with Christ.”
We welcome children to worship by:
- Encouraging families to bring their children of all ages to worship, where children are an important part of our community at worship.
- Providing inter-generational services as opposed to a separate family or children’s service.
- Providing child care for infants through age 3 is available from 7:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m.
- Modeling appropriate church behavior for children, such as standing, sitting, and kneeling. (Parents are encouraged to gradually lengthen the time a child remains in church. Children can usually be expected to participate in an entire service in an orderly manner by the time they enter the second grade.)
The Younger Child
Some adults question the wisdom of including preschool children in worship. It is true that they sometimes distract those around them and distress parents by their behavior. In spite of this possibility, as members of our family, they are needed by all of us to complete the circle at God’s table.
The younger child comes to worship with:
- A short attention span.
- Seemingly endless energy.
- A growing curiosity about everything.
- A sense of joy and wonder in all God’s creation.
While these ingredients can combine to test the patience of adults, there are several things parents can do to make the young child’s experience and everyone’s more relaxed and enjoyable:
- Sit near the front where the child can have a clear view of the altar party.
- Prepare the child for the different parts of the service explaining special events ahead of time and answering questions that need an answer “right now” with a quiet whisper.
- Allow the young child to bring along a favorite stuffed animal, book, or other quiet toy(s).
- Encourage as much desirable behavior as the child can tolerate. Allow children to be active, as long as the activity is not annoying to others.
- Use the quiet time of church as a chance for a special togetherness of parent and child which may not be possible during the week.
- Affirm your child’s religious capacities through participation in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
- Draw attention to points of interest such as the gestures, liturgical colors, and other signs of the Christian faith.
A sensitivity to the young child’s abilities and needs can help make worship a beneficial experience for everyone.
The Older Child
The older child brings some new abilities to worship:
- A greater capacity for attentive listening.
- An increasing ability to read.
- The ability to organize and naturally memorize information.
By age 7, children should be able to participate fully in the complete service.
Parents may help prepare the older child for greater participation in the liturgy when they:
- Review the service leaflet with the child and preview together those parts that the people respond to by reading, praying, and singing.
- Invite the child to follow the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.
- Find hymns in the hymnal and help them track the verses.
- Talk about the sermon and ask the child what he/she found intriguing and interesting.
Children and the Eucharist
Parents are encouraged to pick up their infants and toddlers from the nursery before Eucharist so that they can go to the altar rail as a family. Then, parents are also urged to talk about the Eucharist at the family table at home so that the child can make the connection between our daily bread and the Bread of Heaven.
Worship and Liturgy
Children live liturgy by worshiping with the congregation Sunday after Sunday.
- They naturally acquire the words to the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and other parts of the liturgy.
- They build a fund of memorable, shared experiences of Christian community against which thy may draw when they are older.
- They are enriched by the beauty of music and art as expressions of praise and as human responses to God.
- They hear stories from the Bible read and interpreted, and begin to see Christian worship as one place where God may speak to them.
- They witness the drama of Baptism and Eucharist as signs of God’s creation and Jesus’ salvation.
- They discover that they are valued as persons by God and by the people of God at church.
- Bringing children to worship is not always easy but it is essential to their growth in Christ. The body of Christ assembled is incomplete in their absence. We need them. They bless us by their presence.
Tips for Non-Parents
- Express your gladness at having children in worship.
- During the Peace, be sure to welcome children near you and greet them as members of the family in Christ.
- Include them in your conversations after the service to let them know they belong.
- Free yourself from worry about children’s behavior and be open to receiving their ministry to you.
- Give glory to God who counts us all as children of God by grace.