“Will You Be My Worship Friend?”

Everyone who is a parent has experienced times when you and your child or children have been in public and the child has behaved like, well, a child. In restaurants, stores, movie theaters, wherever, suddenly your perfectly behaved angel of an offspring is transformed into some imposter child that obviously is from an alien planet. Since you can’t not claim the child you attempt to restore control, smile with embarrassment, and, sometimes, remove yourself and your child from the setting. After this happens on more than one occasion you become a little apprehensive about going anywhere with your child or children, or limit where you go to places and settings where the child can be supervised/entertained in a controlled environment, 
AWAY  from where you are. Right?

            One of those scenarios is at church. For over 30 years I have watched parents attempting to corral little people so that they are acting “appropriately” in church. In some churches the children have been sent off to the nursery (this became problematic when the child turned 15) or the church has arranged its programming so that children were in Sunday School or Children’s Church during worship, thus freeing the parents to actually worship and not be policing their behavior. Until recently that was the practice here at COTHP.

            My concern, and the concern of our Minister of Christian Education and Youth, Terry Buchanan, has been that the children either being in “Faith Trails” or the nursery during worship prevented them from learning about what it means to be part of the faith community and what it means to worship God as part of the faith community.

            Sarah and I dealt with this distraction of our child in worship, too, but in a different way, because I was always leading worship and Sarah was in the choir. MagThorn, as a little-bitty, was either in a bassinet next to Sarah, so she could nurse when needed (there was another new mom in the choir with Sarah at that time in the same situation), or in the nursery until she was about three. At age three she came into the worship service and would sit with a variety of “Worship Friends.” I remember watching her from the chancel; she would be squirming, crawling on and off the chair or pew, crawling under the pew, getting up and dancing in the aisle to a hymn she liked, or down on her knees coloring or looking at the picture book in the “busy bags” Sarah and other folks in the church made to occupy the children during worship. (Terry has the pattern for the busy bags if you would like to make some. Sarah can tell you what was put into the bags.)

            As the “pastor,” I was appalled that my child was behaving like a child, so I would cast a baleful glance at Sarah, sitting with the choir. She would shrug her shoulders and mouth silently, “You’re the one who wanted to be a preacher!”

            After worship I would go up to the “Worship Friend” and apologize for MagThorn’s childish behavior. The person would look at me quizzically, and say, “She was fine. I thought she did very well.” I would thank the person for their forbearance and when we got home would lecture MagThorn about how to behave in church.

            One day, though, I began the lecture

before

we went home. A longtime saint of the church, who was at times MagThorn’s “Worship Friend,” who was also an early childhood educator, pulled me away in mid-lecture and very patiently said, “You know, Chuck, the only one who is concerned about her behavior is you. Not only is she not disturbing others, she is paying much more attention than you know.” This wise person turned to MagThorn and asked her, “What did your papa talk about this morning?” To which MagThorn gave a quite detailed, and articulate (for a five-year old), recounting of the sermon, the communion, and some commentary about a hymn she didn’t like.

            While I was picking my jaw up off the floor, the educator told me that little people are paying a lot more attention than we give them credit for. That while they appear to be wiggling and moving around, or engaged in some other activity, they are actually more focused than they would be while constantly being told to sit still and pay attention.

            Ever since then I have encouraged the congregations I have served to focus on ways that children may be included in worship, even very young children. One of those ways is to have the children participate in the service beyond the “Special Moment With Children.” I have approached that in a couple of ways here at COTHP, having the children come up to the chancel to learn about Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, and creating an opportunity for conversation between children and adults in the congregation during the sermon.

            I have also encouraged the idea of “Worship Friends” being willing to have a child sit with them during worship, thus freeing the child’s parents to focus on worshiping and, frankly, get a little break from parenting for an hour. My experience of watching these “Worship Friend” relationships develop has been that the children typically do much better sitting with someone else than they do with their parents, and that the “Worship Friend” himself or herself is blessed by the interaction. Even more, the children develop relationships with adults in the congregation that serve to help them in their faith development.

            Since I have not yet seen the “Worship Friends” idea take hold, I want to take that encouragement to another level now, and ask YOU, the family comprising COTHP, to take a step in fulfilling the promise you made at the baptism of children, to come alongside parents in nurturing these children,

by going up to children prior to worship and ask them if they would be your “Worship Friend” today.

This needs to happen in the presence of the parent, and with the parent’s prior agreement. But it is important that the request be directed to the child, so that he or she will at some level understand that they are important and that another adult WANTS to be with them during worship. Being a “Worship Friend” will allow you to mentor a child, reading prayers with them, singing hymns with them out of the hymnals, answering questions they may have (don’t worry, you won’t be disturbing anyone, least of all me!), and generally teaching them what it means to be a worshiper of God.

            Parents, I ask that you give prayerful consideration to allowing your children to sit with a “Worship Friend,” and that you will be open when approached by a congregant wanting your child to be their “Worship Friend” on a particular Sunday.

            One of the top three priorities emerging out of our “Moving Forward” emphasis is “Focus on Families and Youth.” We can live into that focus by embracing children in worship and teaching them what it means to worship God by coming alongside them as “Worship Friends.”

            I look forward to seeing lots of children and their “Worship Friends” sitting together this Sunday!