Suffer the Little Children…

This is the E-PACKET for:

Suffer the Little Children–Worshiping Joyfully With All Ages:
A Hodge-Podge of Practical Resources, Ideas, and Discussion
A Workshop Presented at The Main Event: Leadership Development Conference Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley & North Alabama Presbytery
As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. ~Ephesians 6:15

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. ~Ephesians 6:15

We start with questions to ponder…
What would a perfect worship service look like for a kid?

What would a perfect worship service look like for an adult?

I think the answers are pretty much the same. This presentation shares how Edgewood Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Homewood, Alabama is going beyond the children’s sermon to incorporate children into the whole worship service seamlessly and joyfully. It’s not about changing the words, just adding words to include children. It’s not about a time FOR children, just crafting the service so that children feel included.

Having a hard time convincing your congregation? Need some supporting dialogue? Try these posts:

Building Faith: Children in Church, Healthy Church Resources, Dear Parents,

A Holy Experience, 2015

Ministry Matters, 2011

How do we make this inclusive worship happen?

#1 Resource: Worshiping with Children by Carolyn C. Brown

Carolyn is a Certified Christian Educator in the PCUSA and my mentor in designing intergenerational worship. Through her blog WORSHIPING WITH CHILDREN, she provides lectionary explanations, activities, hymn and story cross-references, themes, illustrations, ideas, suggestions, and answers. After reading through her Topical Index, especially Popping Posts About Almost Anything Related to Including Children in Worship, find what you need for a particular Sunday through her Lectionary, Scripture, and Date Indexes. Subscribe to her blog and never miss a post!

Today’s Presentation Menu
In the presentation, I gave myself only 20 minutes to share some of the moments where we intentionally yet seamlessly blend children into the worship service.
Here are the descriptions; please feel free to ask questions:

1. Minions
Our kids start acolyting in Second Grade. Yes, it is scary to give them fire, but they love it!

2. Thanks to the Ox.
I learned this one from First Presbyterian in Oxford, MS.
For a baptism, the children of the church are invited down to the fount. After the parents answer their questions (and before the sponsors and congregation answer theirs), these questions are asked of the children:
Do you promise to be a friend to ________? (We do.)
If he/she needs directions, will you show him/her the way? (We will.)
If he/she falls down will you pick him/her up? (We will.)
Will you play with ___________ and share with him/her the stories of Jesus? (We will.)
This could also be done when a family with children  joins the church.
I’ve also thought it would be lovely if the Youth Group (or representative) came forward, too.

3. We claim this space!
(Baptismal Waters)
Before the Prelude at Edgewood Presbyterian Church, our pastor and a child walk down the aisle to the Baptismal Fount. As Pastor Joe reads scripture, the child (ages 5 years and up) pours water into the fount. Said child then walks (usually skipping) back to their seat while Joe invites the congregation to prepare for worship by listening to the Prelude.
Lots of things happening here. It is theological and practical: We don’t have lots of baptisms and so this act reclaims the sacrament for us each Sunday. The visual entrance and audible pouring claim the space and signal that worship has begun. Besides any kid willing to do it can; no training or scheduling necessary.

4. Is this microphone on?
(Lay Readers)
We’re not just talking about the elementary aged kids! Middle and High School kids can be lay readers. EPC did a whole Christmas Eve service with just the Youth reading. (Kids are not just for Youth Sunday anymore.)

5. Yum
For years, we took communion back to the nursery at the appropriate time. Now we haul all those kids into the sanctuary at the appropriate time. My favorite was the time they were a wee bit late and Charlie called out, “We missed him breaking the bread!” Some kids go and join their parents (as we walk to the table) while others stay with the nursery worker.

6. Neo-Impressionists
(Didn’t you grow up drawing on the church bulletin?)
Let’s put that energy to work! Provide postcard-size papers in the pews and invite the congregation (hint hint the kids) to write and draw messages and inspirations and encouragements that can then be collected (during the offering or at the end of the service) and mailed/sent to those on the prayer list.

7. Not at all like proper children
Kids don’t actually have to do the work to do the work. Meaning: have a kid stand next to the greeters or ushers or chalice bearers or preacher…they can walk down and stand there for the welcome and then go sit down. They don’t have to say anything, but they can carry stuff, handout stuff, or wave hello. Of course never pressure a kid to do any of this! Just allow, invite, and welcome.

8. Give and Take
Didn’t you grow up drawing on the church bulletin?
Let’s put that energy to work! (oh wait, we’re already doing this?)
Provide smaller than postcard-size papers in the pews and invite the congregation (hint hint the kids) to write and draw blessings. At the end of the service provide a bowl at the door, people put a blessing in and take a blessing out. This gives the kids something prayerful for their participation in the service.

9. Thou Shalt
(The 10 Commandments)
On my blog I have developed the 10 Commandments of Children’s Sermons. Check them out!
But these rules fit all parts of worship:
The Lord is God: Keep it simple! Including kids doesn’t and shouldn’t be hard.
Honor your father and your mother: Yes, some of church gets lost on the kids, but by letting kids know they are included they will feel comfortable asking their parents for explanations later.
And my favorite, You shall not murder: Nothing kills a child’s participation faster that being the spotlight especially if their action causes the congregation to laugh. I know, we are laughing at their cuteness and innocence and all their good things, but they just hear laughter AT them. Do not put the kids on display for kids on display’s sake. This is worship of God. We are praising God together.

10. Back to School
(Blessing of the Backpacks)
This is a long annual tradition at EPC. (See this blog for the sermons.) As we start the new school year, we invite kids, students, teachers, parents, retirees, and all workers to bring their diaper bags, backpacks, purses, briefcases, carryalls, lunch boxes, whatever. During the children’s sermon, we look forward to the new learning in the new school year and ask God to be with us each and every day. We have college kids that come in town just for this Sunday! It is truly a special event. **First Pres at Auburn, AL shared that during their Blessing of the Backpacks they give a backpack charm (a cross or a fish) for the kids so they can carry on their backpacks a visual reminder that they are loved by their congregation and by God.

11. Waiting is the Hardest Part
(Themes for Advent and Lent)
In addition to the Blessing of the Backpacks, we use the children’s sermon time to explore season themes. Our Advent series of children’s sermons now runs on a three year cycle focusing on: the Advent wreath, the creche, and the Chrismon Tree; while the children get to light the candles of the wreath, layout the figures of the creche, and decorate the tree, all of God’s children get a lesson to soothe the waiting for the big joyous mystery of Christmas. During Lent, we have focused on different kinds of prayers, mission to others (with children bringing bread and socks and pet treats), and packing away the Alleluia (placing the items—Bible, processional cross, baptismal pitcher—we will need for the big joyous Easter celebration into a big trunk). (See this blog for sermons.) Yes, these happens during the children’s sermon but they are enjoyed by the whole congregation. **Gardendale Pres, AL, shared that they are interested in creche manipulatives to have in the nursery/children’s church area for the the kids to use after they leave the sanctuary. Krista Lovell from Generation to Generation was on hand at the Main Event with her wooden storytelling figures perfect for little hands to hold and all hearts to hear God’s story.

12. On the Cover of the Rolling Stone
(Church Bulletin Covers)
We recently started The Mud Ministry, an art program to provide images for the cover of the weekly church bulletin. We call it the Mud Ministry from John 9:15 “He put mud on my eyes…and now I see.” We invite church members to submit photographs, drawings, paintings, any artistic medium to illustrate something from that week’s lectionary. See these examples:

13. I Spy
(Chi Rho Spy)
This is why you came to this workshop! My Episcopalian friend Jill in Brevard, NC, came up with this one. We’ve taken photographs of their sanctuary…close-ups of windows, pews, the chalice, the organ, tapestries, the fount…and put them in two different photobooks (these by Shutterfly) with a verse on the left page and the photo on the right page. These books will be left in the pew once a month (or forever) and during worship, worshipers can look at the book and scan the sanctuary to locate the image. A quiet, artful, lovely meditation.

14. Do you say Crayon or Crown?
(Children’s Bulletins)
A way to harness that drawing power of children during church is to provide a Children’s Bulletin. There are many available for purchase. Check this site for a list of several:
Or you can made/adjust your own. Use simple words to give the order of worship and provide an explanation of what is happening and why it is happening. Provide check boxes beside each step in the service. Be sure to have crayons and/or pencils in a plastic bag to be used with these.

15. The Used-Car Lot
This past Lent, our Pastor Joe asked a question of the congregation during each sermon (such as: What is your commitment this Lent? How do you see God? What brings you joy?). In the bulletin was a 4 inch by 4 inch square of origami paper. After Joe asked the question, we had a few minutes to write our answer on the paper square. Then as we processed for communion, we dropped the paper square in a tall glass vase. The congregation was told they would see these again, but we kept it a surprise. On the Saturday before Easter, we took the 1000 squares, folded them into a triangle and glued them to long pieces of kite string; and then draped the flagged strings to the church rafters. It did kind of look like a used-car lot, but the image on Easter morning walking into the sanctuary with a 1000 colorful papers strung throughout…was breathtaking. While this was aimed at the adults, the kids were just as excited to share their thoughts (in words or drawings) on the paper squares. Everyone was amazed.

16. Bonus Track
(Your Church Newsletter)
Technically this is NOT a worship activity, but this fall in our church’s newsletter, we will start a column suggesting mealtime blessings. Our goal is to give kids something to anticipate…a new blessing!…but really anybody might want to try a different grace. The idea came from my Episcopal friend Jill who has the book A Grateful Heart; when you share her table, she has you pick a number between 5 and 65 and then you read the blessing on that page.

Whew! 16 possibilities…

And finally, I closed the workshop sharing a children’s sermon. One of my all time favorites that works nicely at this time of year as it is a Blessing of the Backpacks: More than a Cabbage. You can find it on this website by clicking here. As the lectionary has rolled around and this Cabbage from 2012 fits with 2015, I’m reworking it for Sunday, August 16, 2015 as The Curious Pineapple. Did you know that it takes 2 years for one pineapple to grow and be ready for harvest? And that each pineapple plant make only 1 or 2 pineapples in its whole life?? So much work for one delicious piece of fruit!

So that’s it. This is the end of the e-packet. Please share any comments or questions or wonderments via the Comments here or email me at: chancelsteps AT gmail DOT com


We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.

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