Religious Education Corner

Worshiping with Children

There seems to be a bit more chatter from little voices in our sanctuary seats lately. Has anyone else noticed that? To what can we attribute these new voices? The RE program in particular has been trying to make our visiting guests feel welcomed and valued. We have undergone several changes to help make this happen. I would like to share some of them with you. You may not have even noticed the subtle changes that have been going on around you.

First, we have had more intergenerational services. Rev. Margie and I have been planning intergenerational services at the rate of at least one per month. This gives us all a chance to worship with our children and youth. If you haven’t been to one of these services, don’t be frightened by the thought of having children and youth share our worship space. I actually know some congregation members who hear that the service is going to be intergenerational and they purposely will not attend. Yet, oddly enough these services are usually standing room only.   We don’t “dumb-down” the service, but rather make it engaging enough that congregation members of all ages will find some value to the service and be able to take something home with them.

We understand that young children especially may find it difficult to sit still and quiet for long. New this year, we have made “Activity Bags” which hang outside the entry to each of the Sanctuary doors. These bags, handmade by Frances McGuire,(special thanks), contain a clip board, crayons, seasonal and UU coloring sheets , a pencil and several pipe cleaners to keep these active minds and hands occupied. Parents of young children just love them! They prove to be especially welcoming for parents with younger ones who are visiting for the first time.

You may have noticed a new brochure in the rack in the lobby entitled “Worshiping with Children.” This is not a brochure just for newcomers. It’s for all congregation members reminding them how to be with children and youth – not only the newcomers. It reminds us all to greet children by their names. Make it intentional to learn children’s names as well as adults. Our Mystery Buddy program in the fall went a long way to mixing our children and youth with more senior members of the congregation. It was a huge success and many people have contacted me to try to plan another mystery buddy partner event. If a child sits next to you in the service, help them with the hymnal and order of service. Maybe follow the words in the book with your finger. Feel free to whisper instructions about “worship etiquette”. We are all teachers here and yet, we can learn from them as well.

For parents, practice full week faith. This means talking to your children on the way home in the car about what they learned at the service or in their religious education class. Relate events that happen during the week to their faith or to something they learned on Sunday. The RE Leaders are not the only teachers of their faith. You, as parents, are truly the most important teachers. They model what you do. If you make Unitarian Universalism a priority in your life, they will make it one in theirs. I have spoken to adults with children in our program who tell me it is their children who want to come on Sunday morning and make them come as well.

Lastly, I need to talk about some safety issues.During Sunday morning religious education classes, Religious Education leaders are happy to assume responsibility for our children, giving parents the opportunity to focus on themselves and the worship service. Before classes begin and after they end, however, children are permitted in the religious education wing only when in the presence of a parent or other adult dedicated to their direct supervision. Children are welcome to play outside with adult supervision. Please be on the lookout for poison ivy, ticks and other outdoor threats in their seasons. Sounds in the Religious Education hallway, footsteps and conversations can disturb services and meetings. Remind children (and adults who forget!) to talk and walk quietly in the halls, sanctuary and classrooms.

In the words of William Ellery Channing (1839): “The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds on the young, but to stir up their own. Not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own; Not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth… Not to impose religion upon them in the form of arbitrary rules, but to awaken the conscience, the moral discernment. In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul.”

~ Gretta Johnson-Sally, DRE