Children in worship at St. Martin-in-the-Fields
The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them.  The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.  Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”  Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. (The Message)
In the Episcopal Church, the number one priority is gathering around the altar for worship. It is the primary focus when we gather together. For this reason, it was decided it is a priority in having our children involved and present in worship at our church. The consequence of this is that we have no conflicts with worship, including Sunday school.
Why should children be in worship?
In the Episcopal Church children are necessary in worship. John Westerhoff, a leading Episcopal Christian educator believes that faith is “caught” not “taught” and what better way for children to know what faith is about than to be a full part of the community.
Westerhoff says, “When a child is baptized in our midst and made a member of the church of Christ, the adults of the congregation promise to be active in nurturing that child’s faith. We need to work together to nurture our children in their faith and be nurtured by them in return. Children give us the gift of trust and a fresh point of view; adults can share the gift of acceptance, experience, and the wisdom of the church though the ages.”
- Through their Baptism, our children are members of the church: Worship on Sunday morning is the primary activity the Episcopal Church engages in. Therefore, our children as members of this community should be included in this crucial aspect of covenantal life.
- Our children will be present in the midst of the means of grace: Our children benefit by being where the Word is preached the sacraments are administered, and corporate prayer is practiced. These are the chief means by which God pours out grace upon His people. Why knowingly keep our children from this blessing?!
- Our children will be present in the midst of the entire congregation: Our children benefit greatly by being in the presence of Christians of various ages. They are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone, but is a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. This only reinforces what Mom and Dad are modeling and teaching when they see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word together, praying together, confessing together, and singing together. They need to see worshipping Body of Christ in action.
- Our children will be present with their parents: Worshipping together as a family helps to counter the current trend in our society of fragmenting our families. If our children join us in worship from four years of age until they are eighteen they will worship with their parents in 780 Sunday morning worship services! Think about the cumulative effect of a family worshipping together, in the midst of the means of grace, meeting with God for 780 Sundays in a row.
- Our children will learn the rhythms of church life: Teenagers in our culture often balk at attending corporate worship. But how many of our teenagers have we setup for this reaction, because we did not consistently include them in worship until they were a teenager? If attending church for years has always attending Sunday School at the same time as our worship—then we should not be surprised that our young people find worship to be odd, uncomfortable, and even boring. I love good children’s songs.. I love good children’s Christian crafts.. But if this alone is the rhythm of church life we have set up for our children week in and week out, we have done them a great disservice. They must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, the Book of Common Prayer, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.
When you come to church with your children – just relax!
- Don’t worry if your children won’t sit still. God put the wiggles in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house.
- If your child needs to take a walk or get a drink of water, please feel welcome to tend to those needs.
- Use a gentle touch: an arm around your child’s shoulder; use your hand in his/hers to give reassurance and appropriate attention.
- Explain quietly the parts of the service.
- Help your child with the bulletin and hymnal.
- Sing the hymns, pray, voice the prayers we say. Children learn good behavior in church by copying yours.
- If your child wants something to do during the service, ask an usher for a “busy bag.”
- Always remember that the way we welcome children in church directly affects the way they respond to church, and to God. Let them know that they are at home in this place of praise, prayer and great thanksgiving.
What can we do to welcome children and their families?
We can nurture Jesus’ little ones and their families by:
- Extending a smile and spirit of welcome to families of small ones
- Learning the names of children and their families
- Offering a helping hand if you see that a family might need assistance
- Making sure children can see what’s going on
- Teaching children to participate in the liturgy with a hearty “Amen,” “And also with you,” or “Thanks be to God.”
- •Helping children to hold hymnals or prayer books at the appropriate times
- Encouraging children, as they draw, to illustrate what they experience in church
- Checking the announcements in the leaflet or on this website for children’s ministry or church-school program opportunities.
I continue to look forward to worshipping with the whole Body of Christ here at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church.