Thursday, May 13, 2010

Children in Worship and the nature of the Liturgy

Reconciler has decided that it wants to have on some schedule some services that are intentionally inclusive of children, but not having a children's service as such. The materials I have found on this are quite varied. Quite a few are centered on services created for children next are services that are oriented towards creating a "family" oriented service as an additional service provided in the parish, and few materials oriented towards how to simply attend to the fact that the worshiping community includes children. All these approaches say that philosophically they are committed to the inclusion of Children in the worshiping life of hte church, not simply accommodating children in a worship service. All say that worship is something to be taught through doing. All are claim that the approach to children and worship is the means to obey Christ in his command "Do not hinder the littel ones from coming to me."

What all these approaches don't contemplate or simply reject outright is that children aren't simply children: while children aren't just little adults they are on a process of quite rapid development to being adult persons. It seems to me that the corporate worship of the church is one place where the telos of a child should be emphasized and the passing temporary world of the child is attended to but not emphasized. That is if in worship we are addressing the whole person of the child then in some sense we need to be addressing who this person as child is becoming and is to become. In fact I would say the liturgy so addresses the child we simply need to guide the child in attending this address. In fact this is what we all find in the liturgy: what is addressed is someone who we currently are not but to whom we are called. The liturgy of the church isn't an adult world as such but the world of the coming kingdom of God. In the liturgy we are brought into contact with what is not us. If we are truly including children we will teach them that their world is passing away, that they are not who they are to be, that in fact none of us are who we are to be, all things are passing away we are all together moving into and being formed into something other than we currently are.

The most helpful in this regard as it turns out are those resources that believe in more or less major transformations of the liturgy (I didn't find free church resources helpful here as they all assume that each instance of worship is constructed more or less from scratch from various elements, and was about how to construct these elements each week with children in mind). I found this helpful because of what these resources felt they needed to retain, that remained outside the "world of the child". In reviewing what these resources retained it occurred to me that they weren't simply retaining things that adults could relate to but that in fact the Gospel, Christian faith is something beyond the full grasp of a child. The child needs to learn to be comfortable with being asked to attend to that which they don't understand. But then again it occurred to me this is what the liturgy should do in the first place for all. In the liturgy, in worship, we encounter the one whom is beyond our grasp. We encounter the Gospel that is something other than we are, we are invited into the Kingdom of God, which is beyond our comprehension.

What I have concluded we need to be doing is what we should always be doing and which should be a reminder to ourselves about what we do as we submit to the liturgy of the church. What I am guiding Reconciler in doing in its services inclusive of children is inviting them to attend and participate in something that is not of their world as children, that is beyond their ability to understand,but in so doing I am also reminding myself and their parents and the whole congregation that this invitation to attend and wait upon that which is beyond oneself is what we all are doing. This is why the liturgy doesn't change radically from week to week or necessarily even age to age, we are being brought into contact with that which overflows the acts we do, and yet it is through these acts that we encounter what we do not know. It is in fact the way we do so. Invention and creation of variations in fact distracts us from that what we do in worship is not ours.

Granted we can become so familiar with the forms that we assume that the liturgy is our possession, but that is simply a sinful response to the liturgy, not its true meaning. The hope of the true inclusion of children in the liturgy is that we are all reminded that in the liturgy we are called beyond ourselves and encounter what we do not know and cannot fully comprehend. In the liturgy we encounter who we are to be.