Many of you have heard me or Rev. Jaelynn use the phrase “Full Community Worship.” It should not be confused with what we used to call “Intergenerational Worship” which could just mean generations of adults worshipping. Full Community Worship means that everyone from cradle to sage is welcome to be in the worship service. When folks hear either term, they groan: “It is all going to be skits and puppets — keeping the children entertained.” Or, “The service will be dumbed down and lack depth or meaning.”
Worship is not about entertainment — for any age. It is about engagement. And, believe it or not, you don’t have to change the elements of worship to have all ages in worship. You might have to change how they are enacted but nothing (including the sermon) needs to be altered or left out.
What we really need to be paying attention to in worship is the fact that everyone learns differently regardless of age. In other words, there are multiple intelligences. People who have linguistic intelligence are all about the words: words in the readings, the songs, the sermon, the benediction. Those with logical mathematical intelligence are looking for patterns and connections, wanting to see that there is a well woven theme and that the whole service ties together. Those who have music intelligence find that it is the music from the service that sustains them all week long as opposed to the sermon or readings. Intrapersonal intelligence has to do with having opportunities for self-reflection. These folks need a time of silence and meditation. Those who possess interpersonal intelligence need to connect and share with other congregants. Those who have spatial intelligence are paying attention to the visual aspects: how the space is being used, where people are reading and singing from. The naturalist is a person who sees patterns in the surroundings and who observes the way things are alike or different and what ways the natural world is represented or brought into the worships service. Finally, there are those who possess kinesthetic intelligence. They need movement, rhythm, clapping, body prayer or maybe even dance.
It is not just children who have these different intelligences. Adults have them as well. Which means that every service needs to have elements that will allow folks to take in or learn in the intelligence style that is naturally theirs. Making a service accessible for children by paying attention to these multiple intelligences makes them more accessible for adults as well.
According to the UU faith consultant, Kim Sweeney, worship is for all ages — even babies. Children learn 45,000 words in their first four years of life. Kim asks, what if some of those words were words from our faith like “chalice” or “hymn” or “Amen.” It turns out that children are most ripe for learning from birth to age 6. They are sponges, soaking up everything. So why do we excuse them from worship when they could be learning so much about it and our faith by remaining in the service? If children attend worship from birth on, it becomes the norm, not the exception. Children aged 6 on up can participate in worship by reading during the service, greeting, ushering, passing the collection baskets, placing hymnals on the seats prior to worship. Kim says that there is no job in worship that a senior youth cannot do: teach, preach, pick music, design the cover for the order of service, contribute a poem or a piece of art. And believe it or not, attending worship is a stronger predictor of a child staying in UUism than youth group or classes like OWL or Coming of Age.
I have said it before and I will say it again: faith is not taught, it is modeled. When children are around folks of all ages, they are watching all sorts of behaviors being modeled. Even if we are not the parent of a child here at WUUC, how we act and interact is being observed, soaked up by the children in our midst. For most of us, church is almost the only place left where all generations can interact as opposed to being segregated from one another.
So, why is it that we don’t have our children in worship???!
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,