A few Sundays ago I was at the back of the Sanctuary during service and was lucky to see Julie with Owen in her lap, “finger-reading” our Affirmation. As a Religious Educator, as a parent, as a UU, this scene brings a smile to my face. Owen is engaged with his mom, with his own intellect, and with our faith – all at the same time. What more can we hope for out of a Sunday morning experience?
Children are the future of this faith, literally. While Religious Education offers stimulating lessons and fellowship for children in their classes, the worship experience is critical to a child’s faith development. When we welcome children into the Sanctuary space, we let them know they are home. My own child, who now attends UU services as a young adult, described her church as a second home. She felt a strong sense of community, of family, in her church. She was in deep relationship with her fellow youth, but also with other adults.
How can we, as a congregation, help make our church a second home for our children?
First, we can warmly greet families upon arrival. We can introduce ourselves, and ask them their names and the names of their children. We can help them find a seat, and offer that they sit next to us. We can help a child find the pages in the hymnbook. We can sing the hymns and voice the responses. Children copy the behaviors that are modeled for them. Parents can use a gentle touch – your arm about their shoulders, your hand in theirs, or embraced in your lap, to give reassurance and direction. Quietly explain the parts of the service. It is okay if they need to stand on a chair to see and sing. Sitting near the front of the Sanctuary so they can more easily see what’s going on also helps keep children engaged.
Our time together as a congregation affirms our relationships with one another and encourages all to engage in a spiritual journey. When you hired me as your Director of Religious Education, this congregation recognized its responsibility in the creation of lifelong UUs. We must teach our children our songs, our theology, and our readings – no one else will. Engaging children and families in worship, helping them feel comfortable and welcome, is one way we can accomplish this mission! (I thank my colleagues, Patty Bissar and Jennifer Nichols, for their inspiration and constructive communication on these matters.)