Children at Worship ~ Congregations in Bloom
Description ~ Developing a Multigenerational Community
Available in book form or DVD
This is a book of many voices: voices of children; voices of their parents; voices of lay and ordained educators and leaders of worship; voices that cross denominations and speak from within and outside the Christian faith. This book carries the voices of tradition; the voices of the prophets and theologians; the voices of the artists. Mostly this is the collective voice of the child in all of us.
I wrote this book from three perspectives; each is woven into each chapter. First, I wrote as a leader and designer of worship. For those of you who do what I do, lay or ordained, my hope was to touch on the joys and difficulties, the hopes and promises of the kind of work that we do, weekly, seasonally, year in, year out. Second, I wrote from the experience and the stories of one particular church – Holy Family Church – in Half Moon Bay, California, where we had the glorious opportunity to create and then experience a new way of being a multi-generational community. Third, my hope was to carry a theological thread throughout each chapter. It not only matters what we do and how we do it, but why.
Attune yourselves to opportunities which help children (and adults) be attentive. One such opportunity is the building of a Storyteller’s Cloak. It’s something any congregation can do.
Here’s how Holy Family Church did it.
Several of our storytellers (Sunday lectors) wrote on flash cards the titles of biblical stories that our children had heard over the past couple years: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead; the Creation story(ies); Moses brings the Law to the people; the Golden Calf; Jesus heals a man who was born blind; Jesus eats with prostitutes and tax collectors; Mary wipes the feet of Jesus with costly perfume . . .
We filled a paper sack with dozens of such story titles, and each week at story time (Liturgy of the Word), passed the sack to the children.
A child drew out “Mary sits at the feet of Jesus while Martha makes dinner in the kitchen.” We told that story, all of us together. The children remembered wonderful things. Martha wanted some help in the kitchen. She sounds just like my mom. She didn’t want Mary to have a good time. Jesus let Mary stay where she wanted to stay. They spoke candidly (children and adults) about their feelings. The adult “Martha’s” of the congregation identified themselves, and they were many.
We passed the sack another time, and a child drew out “Moses hears the Voice of God from a burning bush.” We then told that story, again, collaboratively. Where was Moses? He was out with his sheep. What did he see? He saw a bush that was on fire. There was something odd about this bush. Can you tell me what that might have been? It was on fire, but it didn’t burn up. Who spoke to Moses? God! Do you remember what God said? God told him to take off his shoes. Why, I wonder, would God tell Moses that? You can hear the wheels turning in the silence that follows. They’re stumped. “To give his shoes a break!” The story teller reminds them that Moses was on holy ground.
We shared stories for eight Sundays, four or five stories at a time. Each week, I told the children that I would like them to paint these stories on fabric squares. That we were going to put the squares together into a Storyteller’s Cloak.
On that cloak itself are the pictorial representations of the stories of Hebrew Scripture and the stories of the New Testament: Joseph and his coat of many colors; Jacob’s ladder; Noah’s ark; the crossing of the Dead Sea. The experience of Mary and Joseph as they sought refuge in Bethlehem is depicted by a Motel 8 with a “No Vacancy” sign out front. There is a scene in which four men lower a pallet through the roof of a house. A mustard seed. A pearl of great value, a field of weeds and wheat. Jesus condemned. Jesus crucified. Jesus comes alive. Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
We had a couple seamstresses in our congregation, who were delighted to accept the challenge to sew all these stories together, front and back. Following the presentation of the Story Cloak to the congregation, thereafter when it was time to hear the Gospel story, the Story Teller put on the cloak. In this way, the children knew it was story time, time to settle in and listen.