The Sunday before last, we celebrated Harvest. All the usual chaos of an all-age service, with the added challenge of my using the West facing altar for the first time. Or rather: the West facing credence table. The card-table altar we have scares me: it rocks and shakes, and is too wide for the space it is meant to go in. The credence table is of course too small — both for balancing all the necessary bits, and for looking wholly dignified; but it is the best we can do for now.
… and the advantage is, it leaves lots of room for gathering around.
Well, that’s an exaggeration. The geography of St Mary’s is difficult: long and narrow all the way, with unhelpfully spaced steps at the crossing and a bottle neck at the choir stalls. There is never lots of space for gathering. But the too-small credence-table-altar offers the best bet.
At Harvest, somewhat on a whim, I invited the children to gather round so that they could see. It was mostly the 8-12 year old girls who came. I hadn’t thought it through properly, and I didn’t have words for them, so I juggled as best I could between presiding and helping them follow along, probably confusing everyone slightly.
This past Sunday, I hadn’t any particular plans for the young church. But as it happened, they arrived fractionally later than usual, and were greeted by me saying ‘is that the Young Church entering? Oh good. We’ll just wait till everyone’s here to start the eucharistic prayer. Do come to the front…’ and so on.
But when they got to their usual pews at the front, they didn’t stop. The girls asked if they could stand with me again — and of course I said yes.
I urge any priest who is thinking about children in worship to try this. It’s a revelation.
How can they join in, after all, when they spend the first half of the prayer trying to find where they are in the bookie? (assuming they even have a bookie, and even if it’s a special order of service for the day). Do they know they prayers that everyone says? And is there a hope in any-warm-place-of-your-choosing that they will be able to sing the tricky choral Sanctus that even the choir seem to struggle with sometimes?
I think not.
So I am beginning to rethink this whole thing.
They need word sheets of their own, easy print, and with no extraneous words. Things that say: ‘watch the priest, and listen for the words ‘this is my body… this is my blood… do this in remembrance of me’, then join in: ‘we now obey…’ There will be pictures, of course. And prizes for those who memorize the prayers (I’m considering a fierce competition here: which group will be able to go ‘off book’ first: the adults or the kids?)
Do you sense a flurry of gold stars?
For a while now, we’ve been talking about inviting adults (2 at a time) to join Young Church for a day to see what it’s like. At a ministry team meeting the other night, someone helpfully suggested it could work both ways: adults could invite Young Church members to stay with them in church — and then help them through the experience.
I thought I knew what the barriers were to young people feeling involved, but I was forgetting some very basic things.
And now, I have adults wanting in on the game: ‘can we stand up there and watch too?’
Yes of course.
Now, does anyone have a good source of hungry wood worm for the pews?