October 8, 2015—“Mommy, can I get some candy?”
“Yes,” I replied, undaunted in my attempt to preach the Word. My almost four year-old daughter had recently discovered two things: 1) There is a bowl of hard candy in the church office and 2) Mommy isn’t really interested in teaching a lesson about nutrition or risking a meltdown in the middle of a sermon.
This was not the first time I received such a request, but when I saw a usually placid face on the front row contort with shock and fear, I knew something was terribly wrong.
I whipped around to find my little girl balancing on tip-toe at the communion table. One hand gripped the table cloth laden with lit votives, while her brown curls and pudgy fingers trembled as she attempted to set her own candle aflame. Instantly, I was by her side calmly explaining that she could not light a candle nor take it back to her pew. I pointed her toward the stash of flameless tea lights I gave her before worship and handed her two unlit votives which she accepted with a resigned sigh. Disaster averted.
It was All Saints Sunday a year ago. She learned about fire. I learned “candy” and “candle” sound remarkably similar!
It is all part of the learning process as we embrace the joys and the challenges of worshipping as a cross-generational community. We believe it’s important for children to worship with adults, but we’re also learning it’s good for adults to worship with children.
In our age-segregated society, many adults don’t have the opportunity to interact with children. We don’t have to deal with the baby’s cries, but we also don’t get to hear her laugh. We miss the child’s impatient wiggles, but we also miss his thoughtful questions. When we move the children out of the sanctuary, it’s like worshipping blindfolded. It might be easier to concentrate, but it’s harder to be distracted by beauty, by joy, by wonder, by heart-wrenching sobs and by soul-tending love.
Last summer we held a holy parade in our sanctuary to celebrate God’s presence among us. Like David dancing before the Lord, the children decorated bikes and rode them up the center aisle leading in the bread and cup. I didn’t get to see much of the children, but I couldn’t miss unbridled joy on the faces of the adults. Worshiping with children gave the adults permission and courage to respond authentically to God’s powerful presence. The kids freed us to worship with wild abandon!
On that All Saints Sunday a year ago, when my child very nearly lit the church on fire, we experienced the great challenge and gift of worshipping with children. We learned her actions – while distracting – did not ruin worship. Worship is not about our experience – be it beautiful or broken – it is about God. Children might not know the word “sacred,” but they understand the holy power of worship. Their presence enriches our experience, deepens our knowledge, and magnifies our joy.
When I sat down next to my daughter for the final hymn that Sunday, I saw she completed a communion puzzle, joining the broken bread and jagged cup, piecing together the holy words. Eleven tea lights flickered with battery-powered might and the two unlit votives completed a circle around the fragmented whole. “Remember me.”
And so we remember. We celebrate, pray and sing. We worship with all the saints.
Karen Ware Jackson (’08) is a dynamic pastor leading worship that is accessible for all ages at Faith Presbyterian Church, a small but mighty congregation in Greensboro, NC. As the mother of two preschoolers who worship front and center, she knows firsthand the joys and challenges of parenting a child while leading an inter-generational congregation. She blogs about parenting, pastoring, and engaging all ages in worship at www.karenwarejackson.com