What a gift you are! As a faith community, you are entrusted to mirror the fullness and diverse image of God. With that trust comes a great responsibility to live out the baptismal vows we covenant with those baptized in our faith community and those who enter the doors of our church in whatever part of the journey they are on. Vital to living out this covenant is considering how we welcome children and youth in all aspects of church life.
Let’s start by considering the youngest children in our congregation. Worship is an important part of children’s spiritual formation. Participating with adults in worship helps children develop a sense of belonging to a community and their identity as a person of God. Simply by being present alongside us in worship, children prompt us to examine how we engage with worship and with each other. They remind us that God is present in the messiness of our lives, lead us to reexamine the meaning of holiness, and provide us lots of opportunities to exercise patience, grace, and love.
Accepting young children in worship gives us permission to embrace ourselves in worship—not the holy versions of ourselves, not the “This is how I am supposed to behave” part of ourselves, and especially not the “I have it all together (or at least pretend to)” side of ourselves. I am talking about the fearfully and wonderfully made, good enough just as I am, and “Life may be falling apart, but I managed to make it here” parts of ourselves. If we can learn to welcome children unconditionally, we’ll be better equipped to extend the same grace to ourselves, each other, and our neighbors.
Think for a moment about the commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It turns out that loving the neighbor is really hard. Super hard. And it takes practice. But the good news is that there’s no better or safer place to practice than in worship with people who are also practicing the same thing. And here’s the kicker: children are better at it than we are. Having children in worship is important for them. But it is equally important for us.
Now let’s consider the youth in our congregation. Young people are growing up in a world that is increasingly diverse and complex. Many of them are asking complex faith questions and facing life challenges that cannot be resolved with simple Bible trivia. Unfortunately, churches often remain silent about these complicated issues. Worse, they try to fit a very complex world into a limited understanding of who God is and who people are. It’s no wonder, then, that many young people see church as irrelevant and removed from reality. They yearn for a church that nurtures faith in a God who truly listens and cares.
As a faith community, then, we should never ask young people to leave their problems and questions at the door. On the contrary, Jesus’ ministry was all about bettering the lives of people by restoring people back into relationships with their community, with each other, and with God through healing them, feeding them, and showing them how to love their neighbors. If we are not addressing the real-life problems that our young people face daily, then the faith we practice is hollow.
You may wonder where to start if you want to engage more fully with young people in your congregation. Well, “In the beginning” may be a good place. In the first three days of creation, God prepares the canvas and designs the space that will hold God’s handiwork. We, too, have a space for creative community building. Our sanctuary (or any place where two or more people gather) is a place where we can create experiences to encounter the holy and celebrate the wonderful truth that all of us—adults, youth, children—are created in God’s image. We need an expansive and diverse vision of community modeled after God’s creative work: as bright and as dark as the day and the night, as wide and vast as the sky and earth, as deep and dense as the sea and land. We need to create a space that is safe for everyone, that saves young lives from self-loathing and self-harm, and that allows them to see that they are made in the image of God.
I can’t promise that intergenerational worship is always easy. It isn’t. But I can promise that it is worth it.
Grateful for the gift you are,
Your sibling in Christ