When I was a teenager I attended worship services every Sunday just after my religious education class. At this point I had a lot of questions about God, Jesus and religious organizations. I wasn’t sold on all of it. Nevertheless my congregation provided a great community for my friends and me to question, explore, listen to and discuss matters of faith, belief and meaning. Worship was a central place where that happened. And it was the place I heard my first call to ministry.
When I left the Presbyterian Church and began attending Unitarian Universalist services, I was surprised that religious education for children happened at the same time as worship. I wondered how children and teenagers learned to experience and enjoy worship.
As a minister who works with youth, I think it’s imperative for them to attend worship services. One of the factors that causes our born and bred UUs to leave our communities is their lack of connection to congregational worship — the one thing we offer them as adults. So even though I hear some of our youth groan about attending worship, I encourage them. And when they do come, they share with me how much they enjoyed the service including the sermon.
As a parent of a 3- and a 6-year-old, however, attending worship with my children brings on a panic attack. Yet, I know that it’s important for them to learn the rhythm of worship. I want them to have a time and a community that invites them to nurture their spirit and their questions about life.
Last spring our staff talked with a United Church of Christ (UCC) Church who moved from worship and religious education at the same time to worship and religious education for all. It was an invigorating conversation. To help prepare parents, they offered workshops on Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship based on the book by Robbie Castleman. She writes, “Worship can be one of the times when we parents would like to pay attention to something other than our children. Kids can be distracting, aggravating and embarrassing in church. Parenthood can make sitting in a pew a lot of work. The temptation to just stay home, or at least to keep the kids out of the sanctuary, are real.” So true. At the same time, we teach our children to do all sorts of things that require extreme effort and vast amounts of patience. Why do we leave “teaching our children how to engage with worship” out of the mix?
To put myself to the test, I am spending Sunday mornings in the month of October with my children in the pew. Together we will attend the 9:30 am service and then head to religious education. I am using some of Castleman’s techniques for engaging them and warding off my own anxiety. I plan to write about the ups and downs of the experience on our website. You are welcome to join me. And please, don’t hesitate to offer words of encouragement. Remember, ministers need it too!