Within University Hill Congregation children are welcomed into worship from infancy. We understand that the corporate worship of the God met in Jesus is crucial to Christian formation. The ministry of the Children’s Elder reminds the whole community of its baptismal promise to witness to Jesus Christ by offering hospitality to children in worship and in Christian community. The congregation remembers Jesus’ command to his disciples: “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). In response to Jesus, we intend that the practice of hosting children begins with the arrival of children at worship. Greeters welcome children as well as adults, offering them a hymn book and an order of service. Adult members of the community make a point of conversing with children, learning their names and treating them with dignity and respect.
From Sunday to Sunday, we understand that the first thirty minutes of worship are shaped in a way that invites even the youngest in our midst into the rich variety of the liturgy:
A carpet is provided at the front of the Chapel and another near the Chapel entrance, along with soft toys, so that infants and toddlers can play quietly
The Peace of Christ is passed, with all learning the bidding and response:
The Peace of Christ be with you - And also with you.
News of the congregation’s life is kept to a minimum in order that the drama of worship moves forward without delay
A variety of music and song is offered for children to hear and to share in. Both the Kyrie and Doxology are repeated throughout each season of the church year so that children learn and join in these songs of confession and of praise.
Prayers are spoken, silent prayer is offered and the Lord’s Prayer is sung (with actions) bringing children into a community shaped by prayer
The church bell is rung, the Bible and light enter in procession as the drama of holy worship begins. To a child the Chapel is a very large space, and the gathering of all ages for song, silence, prayer, scripture and communal care offers the gift of a generativememory of the church for years to come.
Offerings of food, for the Emergency Food Cupboard at First United Church, are carried forward by our young children. In this act of worship they feel the weight of the world’s need and of their part in responding to Christ’s call for the community of disciples to respond with sacrificial gifts.
The Children’s Elder has a particular calling to have a heart for children and to keep an eye open for children as they enter the sanctuary on the Sabbath day. Following the singing of the Doxology the Children’s Elder invites children to collect the baskets of food that have been collected and to bring them forward as an offering to God, placed under the Table. A carpet is pulled forward to the Table. The Children’s Elder sits on the carpet, gathering the children and briefly sharing a scripture text for the day or speaking with them about the congregation’s journey through the story of the Christian year (eg: Advent, Lent, Easter). This ministry is easily tempted to become a “cute” time in which children become an entertainment for the adults in the congregation. We ask the Children’s Elder to keep the focus on the story of our life with God as discovered
in Jesus Christ. This is important work, undertaken with diligence and careful preparation. It is not a time for object lessons in how to be good. Nor is it an opportunity to speak through the children to the adults. This is a time to give these youngest disciples the sense that they are beloved by God and that they are being called to follow Jesus. At the conclusion of the time with the children the Children’s Elder invites those taking leadership of the Little Ones and of the Elementary class to come forward in order to share in carrying a candle (Elementary) or in bearing a small cross (Little Ones) as the children form aprocession out of the Chapel to continue learning the Way of Christ.
Because the liturgy is, literally, the “work of the people” we seek to involve children in offering leadership in worship. This leadership can range from greeting to bell-ringing to carrying in the Bible and candle. As children learn to read we invite them to read the scripture aloud for the congregation. Those children who learn to play an instrument or to sing are invited to add their musical gifts to the congregation’s worship of God. From time to time children participate in offering testimony to the working of God in their life and in the life of the church and world. Children are also invited to pour water into the font during the sacrament of Baptism and to assist in serving the elements in the sacrament of Communion. When we forget to invite and include children in the leadership of worship on a regular basis we rely upon the collective memory of the congregation to remind us of our commitment to call children into servant leadership that reflects their gifts and skills.
On Sundays when Eucharist is celebrated the children are invited to be present in the life of the worshipping community. This great thanksgiving banquet is the central meal of Christian communal life. Like family meal tables, this table does not exclude children. In order to prepare children for the Table we seek to regularly teach our children about it, both when we gather at the church and when we speak about the church in our homes. Since the Eucharist is a meal intended for those who have been baptized, and since many of our children are baptized, we do not exclude children from this sacrament. Since we also make room at the Table for those who have not been baptized but who desire to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the world prior to their baptism we do not discriminate when it comes to those who reach out to take from the loaf and cup. At the same time, there is no compulsion for anyone of any age to receive the Sacrament of Communion. We encourage families to discuss this matter and to make their own decision as to the appropriate time and place for the reception of the Eucharist. We do invite those who do not wish their young child to receive the sacrament but who would be grateful for a blessing, to simply step ask the Presider for a blessing as they come forward to the Table. The Presider will lay a hand on the child’s head and say a blessing. Children and adults may also simply remain seated to watch the drama of the sacrament.
On major festival days the congregation invites those of all ages to worship together throughout the service. On these few days in the year - normally Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday, Pentecost and Thanksgiving - the Chapel seating is re-arranged so that the table is central and the whole community is gathered around the festal banquet. The liturgy on these occasions is crafted in order to move at a reasonable pace without a lengthy sermon, extended readings, etc.
On these Sundays, the Little Ones class takes place as usual with the lesson based on the festival being celebrated. Parents of preschoolers, kindergarten and grade one students are welcome to bring their children into the class at any time but the class will move through the various activities as it does every Sunday. Songs that fit the theme of the festival are sung, the story of the festival is read with the children who are invited to participate in the story telling and to wonder about its meaning with the first participants and as we still do today, then various age-appropriate activities based on the story are offered. Sometimes they run like the mighty wind at Pentecost, sometimes each will make a collage of things he/she is thankful for, sometimes they will look into the empty tomb, sometimes each will blow out the candle on a little birthday cake to celebrate the birthday of the church with the tongues of fire. Children are able to choose the activities they wish from a variety of choices. Each activity has been carefully prepared to allow the children to experience the festival in different ways. To connect church with home usually there is something they have made to take home to share with the entire family
In this way we seek to learn Christ together - learning to be the children of God in a community of praise and prayer, formed by the story of Jesus and by our life at the Table together. We imagine that our children are learning this common life even when they do not understand everything that is spoken in worship and when boredom seems to replace wonder and mystery. The discipline of Christian worship is that - a discipline - and it is learned even at a young age by being present in the worshipping community. We hope that the Children’s Elder, the Worship Ministry team, the Christian Education team and the Session will strive to keep the congregation mindful of the crucial place that children have in the worship life of the congregation and that the worship life of the congregation has in the lives of its children.