Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Children & Worship, Part 2

Thank you to the wonderful people who have responded, in comments and some friends by email, to my questions about kids in worship.

Right now I see two things that are really standing out for me about this. One is the importance of having a rich, multilayered, symbolic worship service that engages people on many levels. One friend pointed out to me how verbal White, protestant, free-church worship tends to be. So many words flying over the heads of kids. While our service on Sunday certainly offered a variety of musical pieces, it was nonetheless extremely verbal. I suddenly have in my head the droning wah-wah-wah of the adult voices in Charlie Brown cartoons. Is that how worship sounds to our kids?

The other thing that stands out currently is the importance of having adults model for children the worship behavior they expect. I thought of this after writing my last entry--as I considered how moving it was to see parents lifting their children to kiss the icons in the Russian Orthodox Church. How do parents lift up children, metaphorically speaking, in our church?

For a couple years, when E was quite small, I used to set him up on top of the pew seat when it came time to stand for prayers, singing, and eucharist (in my Lutheran Seminary worship services). This gave him a much better vantage point than being huddled behind the back of another pew.

I think what I'm dancing around here has to do with participatory worship altogether. I've been reading bell hooks "Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom" and see some correlation between the academic, classroom environment and the church environment. At one point she writes: "Nowadays, there are times when students resist sitting in a circle. They devalue that shift, because fundamentally, they don't want to be participants." I immediately connected this to my church context where many folks protest worshipping in a round (though we have the flexibility to do so).

I think what I'm asking is--how do adults' and/or parents' own expectations about participation (or nonparticipation) in worship ineluctably shape the children's expectations as well? Do we care enough about worship in our own lives to even ask that our children care, too?

Finally, I am struggling with one more piece. A couple folks commented in my last post about children serving as leaders in worship--and what a powerful and inclusive experience this is for them. Recently, I have started to face another question about this: in a tradition that practices adult or believers' baptism, what is the proper role of children as liturgical leaders? That is, we do not have the expectation that children believe any of this stuff yet. Occasionally I think, well, yes, but they're our catachumens. But are they really? I'm not sure. Even catechumens are enrolled.

Do you see where my struggle lies? If a child has not yet been baptized and has not expressed any interest to be baptized, then are we making them to say and do things that are not yet theirs? Does this essentially amount to being a form of ritual coercion? (I want to be clear that I do not believe there is even a little sense of coercion for traditions that do baptize infants and children. This is really a tradition-specific question.)


peripateticpolarbear said...

We are baptizing an adult in a couple weeks that has been leading worship for a year. I guess I don't see how having unbaptized children leading worship is any different. We grow into faith, and part of growing into it is surrounding yourself with more and more involvement until you're ready to take it on as your own. I do hate it, though, when children are required to lead worship as part of their sunday school program. invited, yes. forced, no.

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