do not stop them

In worship the church draws back the curtain on the kingdom of God. Here it enjoys a foretaste of the future present. Here we are reminded that it is not up to us to build the kingdom of God but rather to enter it and to live as citizens of God’s coming realm. And here Jesus reminds his church that the most vulnerable are crucial participants in the zone of God’s governance: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14). At University Hill Congregation Jesus’ command has led us to adopt a number of liturgical practices intended to form a congregation that does not stop the little children from coming to him.

Entering God’s sanctuary we find baskets being filled with food – gifts for the emergency food cupboard at First United Church in Vancouver. Later, when the children are invited to gather to hear the Word, they first pick up these baskets as an offering to be placed at the Table. From the beginning the love of God in worship leads to love of neighbour in the world. Near the baskets there are comfortable chairs for nursing mothers, along with a bucket of soft toys and a rug – signs of hospitality. The time of welcome concludes with the passing of the peace – “The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you” – as little children and aging elders join in this ancient rite of the ecumenical church.

The liturgy continues with the ringing of the church bell – something that the children take turns doing as they pull on the big rope with all their might. Then the large Bible is carried in with reverence as it is accompanied by a child carrying the candle-lighter for the lighting of the candles. The Singers sing a simple haunting introit. Our children rarely experience the beauty of such four part harmony. We notice that even the youngest are quiet and attentive as The Singers shift our focus to the worship of the God we meet in Jesus Christ. Music fills the opening of the service. In particular, each season of the Christian year is marked with a “Kyrie” and a “Gloria” that are repeated throughout the season (in the long Season after Pentecost we change these refrains every two months). Through repetition the children learn the refrains that accompany the crucial turn from truth-telling confession to gospel newness that lies at the heart of the church’s reason for being.

Now the children gather on a rug near the pulpit. This is not a time for object lessons or the teaching of moral values. This is not a time for laughter at the expense of the children. This is a time for telling the story of the people of God. The children hear the Bible story that they will be hosting through song and play and art in the class that follows. While the story may regularly be filled with hilarity and oddity this is serious business. We do not advertise childcare, nor do we have a nursery. We have a Little Ones class. In an age when the church regularly suffers from communal amnesia we have come to believe that it is never too early to begin telling the story of God’s good news.

At the end of the story the congregation is invited to join in singing the Lord’s Prayer. The children embody the prayer with actions. We do not want to stop them from learning to pray in the way that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray. As they leave the sanctuary one of the little children carries a small cross and one of the older children carries a lamp – signs that the worship we have begun together continues in their learning together.

                                                               (from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)

No comments:

Post a Comment