"Well, first the committee took turns in talking about 'why we were there'" (Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
I love this line from Hagrid. I wish I could have posted a clip, his tone of voice really demonstrates the frustration that many of us have when we're in meetings and the very diligent leader takes us, not to the immediate question, but back to why we're there in the first place. So annoying!
It's all fine and dandy to work with children's time by changing up where the kids sit, or by asking storytellers to limit the object lessons, or by including music while the kids are coming or going. But unless we know why we are doing this whole thing in the first place, the changes are really just bandaids.
And honestly, I can't tell you why your church is doing children's time. That's yours to discern. I can, however, tell you some of the reasons that I've heard and poke holes in a few of them. :)
1. We want to give our children something to do during the service because it's boring for them, and they get antsy.
- Certainly, worship services can be long and it's good to incorporate movement into them. Yet, I can't help but wonder if the reason we need to consider movement is because we are embodied beings ... all of us. Movement is part of the way we learn and express ourselves, not just something we insert because we become bored. And if the service is boring for children (and possibly for adults), then perhaps there are other questions that might be asked such as "how can we worship with our whole selves?" This is a question that goes beyond making space for children to race up to the front and back again in order to alleviate boredom.
- Certainly. Children are a very special part of our congregations. We cherish them because they are a gift to us, and Jesus demonstrated that children are a welcome part of the kingdom. Wanting children to know that they are special seems like a valid concern. So the question here might be, "does our children's time actually communicate to our children that they are loved?"
- And as we work at more genuine intergenerational worship, another question we might ask is, "how do we show other people groups in our congregation that they are loved?" Do we set aside a separate time during worship for the elderly, the differently abled, nursing mothers, youth, different ethnic groups or those of various sexual orientations? While it might be very true that children's time makes children feel special, I often wonder if they might feel more special if, like other people groups, we embraced them and welcomed them to participate as full members of the worshiping body, rather than putting them on display (I know a bit cynical) for 5 min.
- This is a reason that's often left unsaid. But from offhand comments I've heard, it's occasionally an underlying impetus for children's time. For me, this reasoning is par with finding token women for committees, or token members of minorities for panels. While on the surface it seems inclusive, it can actually be dehumanizing. We don't use children, or others, as objects to demonstrate our inclusivity, or our diversity or our success. Especially since, in the case of children's time, this may simply mean that we know how to procreate.
- Now this one I find compelling. Mainly because it's actually related to what we do during worship. Worship is a way of living out our faith in the midst of the congregation and so to intentionally pass on our faith and nurture children during worship seems congruent with what we are about. And this means that we need to pay attention to what happens during children's time in order to determine whether we are, in fact doing what we set out to do. I think using children's time to tell the biblical story is a profound way that this can happen. But more on that in another post. :)
- However, I want to challenge congregations again to consider the many other ways that we can make portions of the service accessible to people of all ages (the age appropriateness component). And yes, I will keep harping on this. It really is possible. I've seen it happen. I've seen young children reading creeds, and singing, and praying, and lighting candles, fully engaged in worship for significant periods of time. Not the entire time, I'm not engaged the entire time either, but for significant periods.
- Okay, so this one is quite related to the previous one, but with a significant difference. The focus here is on the way children learn. The center of this argument isn't about passing on faith, but on the fact that we are at different stages of brain development, which is actually true. And when children's time genuinely meets young children at their developmental level what happens can be quite profound. However, if you pay careful attention to many children's times, you might notice that they frequently include object lessons, which require the ability to think abstractly which is a skill that generally develops in late childhood when children no longer want to be paraded up front for children's time. Another worthwhile point to mention is the number of times people tell me that the adults in their church often get more out of children's time than out of the sermon. Hmmm...why might that be?
- Another important question is what the place of "learning" is in worship. Certainly all of us come to worship and do learn something. However, if the entirety of my experience of worship was simply inputting new information, I would very quickly want to stay home and watch cartoons. When I go to worship I hope to meet God, to express my praise and lament, to sing, and pray, to experience mystery and yes...to learn new things. But if the only concern we have for children is that they receive some information in a cognitive format, then I think we're probably robbing them of the fullness of worship.
7. We want to share the biblical story in a more oral or dramatic fashion.
- Again, I find this one particularly compelling. The Bible was originally passed on orally, or aurally if you prefer. It was meant to be told and heard in the midst of community. For some churches "children's time" does not actually have that particular moniker and is more about the community gathering together to hear the biblical story. Children happen to be invited up front so they can participate more fully or see more clearly (I bet it makes them feel special!). I actually think this way of approaching the biblical text and children is lovely. And that's most likely because it's not really "children's time," it's "hearing the Word" and it's an intergenerational part of worship.
All of this probably sounds like I'm completely against children's time. I'm not. Really, I'm not! I just think it's important for us to think carefully about why and how we do children's time in the same way that we think critically about other parts of worship.
So, like I said, I can't tell you why you do children's time at your church. This discussion is simply here to spark the imagination and encourage basic foundational questions.