Instead of a Rally Day service where grown-ups encourage kids and acknowledge church school teachers as we begin our church program year, this year we gave the day over to the kids. I prepared the liturgy and–with help–worked with the kids.
When I started thinking about the service, I thought I would do something that emphasized children. A Samuel story or Joseph or David. Maybe the boy having the fish for the feeding of the 5000; however, it was a communion service, and I had the John Bell refrain stuck in my head: “God bless to us our bread / and give food to all those who are hungry / and hunger for justice to those who are fed. / God bless to us our bread. / Bendice Señor nuestro pan…”
I decided to let go of kids playing kids or telling a story about kids and let them remind us of what it means to ask for bread and justice.
If you work with kids and don’t have John Bell and Alison Adam’s Sing with the World album, you might be missing out. We began the service with a 6th grader playing his saxophone for the prelude. Then the kids processed in with the cross, a pitcher of water which the young person poured into the baptismal font, and the bread and cup which the brother and sister placed on the communion table. The kids sang “Come all you people, come and praise your maker.” Originally we were going to do this with shakers (and have done in the past), but with only 3 weeks and one of them labor day weekend to practice, I let that one go. It was fine. Then one child led the Call to Worship and the kids sang “Cantad al Señor” first verse in Spanish and English and the congregation joined in the 2nd and 3rd in English. Another child led the Prayer of Confession.
Using a narrator and character parts, all reading more or less readers theatre style with minimal costuming, 3 groups of kids did 3 scripture readings that dealt with bread or justice: Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath (feed the man of God and you will have bread for yourselves), Jesus and the Canaanite Woman (Why shouldn’t you heal my daughter even though I am a foreigner?), and following directly on that in Matthew, the lesser-known feeding of the 4000 (Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread, as will be echoed in the communion liturgy that would follow). After each reading, the kids gathered around the microphones and sang the refrain: “God bless to us our bread…”
After the scripture readings, the pastor gathered the children and called up any who hadn’t participated and talked about what they had done and what it meant to lead worship and gave our solo 3rd grader his 3rd grade Bible.
(In case anyone missed it, the embodying of the scripture by the children and the “Time with Children” in which the Pastor spoke to what the children had done were, in fact, the “Proclamation of the Word” in accordance with the Book of Order (NFoG). I was told afterword that we were out of order because there must be a sermon to have communion in the PC(USA). Yes. There must be the Proclamation of the Word. If you didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear, I’m so sorry.*)
After the Time with Children, the kids made their way to the choir loft except one solemn boy who stood behind the communion table with a stole around his neck and handed the communion elements to the pastor as she spoke the sacred words and broke the bread and poured the cup.
As communion was served, the children sang again “God bless to us our bread…” this time including a prayer over the music and the Spanish words. The organist played the recorder and our music guy played the piano. When they had finished, the organist continued playing and the kids re-entered the sanctuary to join the line for communion and then find seats with their families.
I am often serving communion, but I had asked not to so that I could see to the children. Therefore, I was able to join the line with my daughter and receive with her. I serve her, but I don’t usually receive with her, and I am usually served by my partner rather than the pastor. There is nothing more sacred about being served by the pastor. It is the Lord’s table; not the pastor’s table. But she is my friend and my mentor as well as my pastor, and I let myself stand in her line because I usually don’t. It was a holy moment for me, watching her serve my daughter and then serve me.
And that was it. The boy who played the saxophone led the congregation in the prayer after communion, the closing hymn was “Jesus Loves Me” to bring the service full circle, the pastor pronounced the benediction, and we left.
People loved it. It was amazing. The thing people kept saying was that the kids weren’t cutesy and they weren’t performing. They had a sacred task and they fulfilled it.
We had three weeks. My kids were the only 2 who were there all three weeks, and the boy child didn’t participate in the end. So we had three weeks and different kids every week, including a kid who came with the neighbor on the first week, I gave her a part, and we didn’t see her again until the actual service when she came and brought her family. I was terrified Saturday afternoon. But Sunday morning as they all showed up early to rehearse, I was able to let myself relax and let the Holy Spirit in and they (the kids and the Spirit) pulled it off. I am thankful that we have parents who work with their kids and a music volunteer who makes practice CDs for the kids (Those practice CDs save us. Our carpool makes up about half the kids and they listen to and sing with it every day driving home from school whichever car they are in).
It was incredible. I have a script and an order of worship I’d be happy to share if anyone is interested, but when I prepared it, I did what I have done with the Christmas Pageants the last couple of years, I started with our kids and who they are and what they can do and with a song I wanted to use and I shaped it from there.
Also, we did this in lieu of a Big Pageant this year. In December, we’ll be doing an Instant Pageant, giving families a break in the overwhelming Holiday Season.
*For the Presbyterians among us who wonder about the woman who told me I was wrong, here’s what the current Book of Order states:
Whenever the Lord’s Supper is observed, it shall be preceded by the reading and the proclamation of the Word.
The Book of Order talks about preaching and then it has a section on “Other Forms of Proclamation.” The above, does not say “preached;” it says “proclaimed,” and it gives a variety of ways to proclaim:
The Word is also proclaimed through song in anthems and solos based on scriptural texts, in cantatas and oratorios which tell the biblical story, in psalms and canticles, and in hymns, spirituals, and spiritual songs which present the truth of the biblical faith. Song in worship may also express the response of the people to the Word read, sung, enacted, or proclaimed. Drama and dance, poetry and pageant, indeed, most other human art forms are also expressions through which the people of God have proclaimed and responded to the Word. Those entrusted with the proclamation of the Word through art forms should exercise care that the gospel is faithfully presented in ways through which the people of God may receive and respond.
Pretty sure the people of God received and responded (and actually the Time with Children was a sermon, but it didn’t have to be). I was angry because the woman “went to Former Pastor and asked him” to make sure she was right and I was wrong before she came to me. That’s a pretty big breach of order in a Presbyterian church, and he has dinged me on other things that he has called “wrong” that are simply a difference in practice, always when the current pastor has given her endorsement to what I am doing. So. Let it go. Everyone else knew the Scripture was Proclaimed.