Bishop Ward shares some of her experiences with children in worship and urges churches to develop creative ways to include and engage children in the worship experience.
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ who loved little children and who blessed them in the midst of his followers.
We United Methodists are lovers of children. From the early days of the Methodist movement, Methodist people have encircled children with loving arms and helped them have the things that they need to grow into fullness of life. This is a glorious heritage.
Mike and I were invited to attend the Central Conference of Southern and Central Europe. Mike and I noticed right away, in the cathedral, an amazing space. To the right of the chancel area, there had been prepared a space for small children. The space had not been prepared at the back, behind the pews, or in some other place in the cathedral. It had been prepared at the very front of the cathedral, to the side of the altar, in view of all the worshipers. A bright rug had been spread and on the rug were small tables and chairs and soft toys, coloring books and crayons and sheets of paper that had the Bible stories of Jesus printed upon them. It was obvious that in this very, very ornate and beautiful church, the people’s hearts are turned toward little children.
When children worship with the gathered congregation, even as they wiggle or ask for a piece of chewing gum or even drop a hymnal on the floor, they are absorbing the music, the liturgy, the prayers of all God’s people. It’s a powerful experience for a small child to worship, even as it is a powerful experience for those who are older to worship. I encourage you to think about ways to incorporate the children in your church family into the full life of worship. Many congregations have developed very elaborate programs for children during the worship hour and these efforts at children’s church are well intended and do accomplish good, I am sure. However, the presence of children in worship is a greater, greater gift.
Recently, worshiping in one of our United Methodist churches, I sat down beside a small child. He was seated beside his grandfather. He proceeded to point to the hymn book in the rack and to tell me that I needed to get the hymn book to be ready for the first hymn, “129,” he whispered, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” This 8-year-old child had on his lap a church bulletin and he was following every single movement of the service. He sang the responses. He prayed the prayers. He was fully engaged. As I heard his young voice singing alongside my own, as I heard his young voice praying the prayers of the people, my heart leapt with joy. This child is receiving the full gift of Christ through the church.
In this spring season, as we look toward summer and our particularly joyful engagements with children – summer camps, Vacation Bible schools, Wonderful Wednesdays and Terrific Tuesdays, it is a joy to anticipate all that God will do among us. As we plan for children in the life of our church, let us not neglect the most important planning of all – the inclusion of children in the worshiping life of the congregation. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them, for such is the kingdom of God.”