Rev. Miranda’s Sabbatical Report

Rev. Miranda went on sabbatical from August through October of 2018. Here’s an overview of what she came back thinking about!

SOME KEY LINKS:

St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco

Saint Lydia’s Waffle Church, Brooklyn

What Is the SCA?

I. INTRODUCTION

What I said I planned to do, in our church’s sabbatical grant application:  “For my sabbatical, I want to develop my approach to including children in the worship of my Episcopal parish, by visiting four churches that are integrating children into worship in transformative, life-giving ways.  I will use these site visits, supported by reading and interviews, to both glean new ideas and to develop and articulate a fuller sense of the possibilities and purpose of including children in the weekly worship of a congregation.”

My family and I visited 5 churches to worship & observe, plus 2 non-church groups; I interviewed 14 people and read a bunch of books; and we also did some fun stuff! 

A core shift in my language and thinking, as a result of this work: From “including children in worship” to “intergenerational worship.”

  • Multigenerational vs. Intergenerational
  • Opting for the inclusion of children – against history and norms. Sylvia Mutia-Miller: “All of church is always for all of us, but that normally privileges grownups.”

I believe that St. Dunstan’s is called to intergenerational worship. 

II. WHY Intergenerational Worship that Includes Children? 

1. Because church belongs to children too. 

  • Baptismal Ecclesiology (1979 BCP). Watch adult/kid “us”/“them”s: Whose church is it? There is no good reason, historical or present, for children to be sidelined. 
  • Not a growth strategy! 

2. Because that’s how we raise faithful kids. 

  • Worship is formative.  Sylvia Mutia-Miller: “Whenever we worship together God is at work, forming and transforming us into a community that can reflect God’s glory and love in the world, more and more.” Christian formation (Sunday school, etc.) is important, but different. 
  • Intergenerational community is good for youth, too.
  • Raising faithful kids is a responsibility of the whole body. “We will!”

3. Because it’s a different kind of human community than we usually experience.

  • Intergenerational worship is countercultural. Age-segregation as a norm. 
  • Anticipate that we’ll all be blessed by being in community together. Mutuality. 
  • Louis Weil: “It is not only that the child changes by being brought into the community of faith, but that the community itself changes as the mystery of another believer’s life unfolds in the context of community.” (Children at Worship, Congregations in Bloom, xi) 
  • Rebecca Stevens of Waffle Church: This is re-culturing work.

4. Because liturgy matters. Attending to how liturgy engages and forms children means attending to how liturgy engages and forms everybody. 

  • “Normal” Episcopal worship.  Ruth Meyers: “We expect people who participate to conform, to stay in their place, to adopt the same posture as the rest of the congregation, to speak or sing their lines at the proper times…, to listen attentively during the sermon (or at least appear to be doing so)… In such circumstances, it seems kind to keep children away.” (Worship-Shaped Life, 109-110) 
  • Do we know what’s going on? Is it comprehensible and meaningful to us? Anglican worship is supposed to be “in the language of the people.” 
  • Liturgical Engagement vs Liturgical Participation. 
  • Shift from, “How can we keep the children from disturbing us during worship?” to, “How can we invite the children into real involvement?”  
  • Gretchen Wolff Pritchard: “I am increasingly convinced that children’s liturgical needs are not qualitatively different from those of adults.” (101) 
  • Kids WANT to participate.
  • This work is harder for Episcopalians in some ways, and easier in others. How can we unbind our worship to set the meanings and mystery free? 
  • This is renewal work.

“What happens when we dare assume that children have the same claim on the space, ritual, style, and content of worship as do adults?” (Caroline Fairless, Children at Worship, Congregations in Bloom, p.11)

III. TOUCHSTONES FOR THIS WORK

1. TOUCHSTONES: DIGNITY

  • Churches often don’t honor kids’ dignity, even when trying to include them.
  • Kids know what’s up. 
  • Always notice kids. 
  • Take kids seriously. Watch out for “cute” and “funny.” 
  • The dignity of high expectations.  “Children are experts at ‘reading a room’, looking not only to their parents and leaders but also to peers, older children, and the community at large for cues about expectations, norms, and behavior in various situations.” (Sylvia Mutia-Miller)
  • Have clear tasks and expectations, and debrief often. 
  • Preach and speak as if kids are in the room. 
  • Never say something is “for children.” 
  • Are we dominating, managing, segregating?

2. TOUCHSTONES: MENTORING – INVITING AND AFFIRMING

  • Don’t just assign roles based on age. Notice & call forth kids’ particular gifts.
  • Who does this work? 
  • Parents & non-parental adults are both important. 
  • Assume kids can do stuff. 
  • Help kids feel their agency: they can do things that matter! 
  • Have age-appropriate expectations & increase responsibility with age. 
  • Not a mandate to order kids around.
  • “The clearest way of learning to be Christian is to participate with others in the practices of being Christian.” (Generations Together, Amidei, Merhaut, & Roberto, p. 24) 
  • AFFIRMATION is an important core practice for the SCA. 
  • Offer affirmations both formally & informally/casually.
  • Practicum – go beyond, “Great job!”
  • Regular, specific affirmation, tied to values, is great for everyone, not just kids! 

IV. THE INTERGENERATIONAL LITURGY CONTINUUM

A work in progress, but this is how Miranda is thinking about it right now!

 

V. TOOLS OF LITURGICAL ENGAGEMENT

1. DEBRIEFING

  • A core practice at St. Gregory Nyssa. What worked? What did we learn? 
  • Be especially intentional about listening to kids’ input!
  • This is uncomfortable at first, but easier when it becomes a norm. 

2. ROLES

  • “Kids need jobs.”
  • Many clearly-defined, scripted roles facilitates kids’ participation. 
  • Continuum from easy, step-in roles to roles involving more responsibility.
  • Roles should go with ability and capacity.
  • Simple roles are not “kiddie” roles. Everything should have purpose. 
  • “Doers and Trainers” – culture of mentorship. 
  • Give the work away.  St Gregory Nyssa liturgy script introduction: “The core value of the liturgy is glorifying the stranger through clear, direct, warm invitation: leaders are expected to give work away, and involve newcomers, old-timers, children and adults to participate fully.” 
  • Giving the work away is itself skilled work. 

3. STORY

  • Use story as much as possible. 
  • Bring forward Scripture story in our liturgy.
  • Name & share core holy stories for our community.
  • Open space for us to share our stories with each other.

4. SPACE & STUFF

  • Kid-friendly space: what does that mean? 
  • The purpose of materials like coloring pages, flow toys, etc. is to help kids (and others) be more present, not less present, by engaging hands/senses. Especially helpful when for sitting-and-listening times. 

5. CUES, SIGNPOSTS & PACE

Sylvia Mutia-Miller: “Often when people don’t participate in an activity, it’s not because they don’t want to. It’s because they haven’t been explicitly invited and they don’t know how.  In order to participate fully at each point in a worship service, children need to know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how they can help.”

  • Be realistic about kids’ attention. 
  • However, we can do worship in ways that invite kids’ engagement more.
  • Think about cues to attention or inattention. The cues to inattention are really baked in. 
  • How can we help kids, and others, follow the flow & tune in to the “important parts”? Kids can need more of a cue or transition than adults. Work on developing a pattern of consistent cues, even when elements of liturgy change. 
  • Kids like knowing how things go and what things are called. 
  • Be intentional about PACE.
  • Don’t be afraid of using silence.
  • People tune in when people in leadership look like you.

6. MOVEMENT

  • Bodily engagement
  • Use movement that already happens in worship
  • Step dance at St. Gregory’s
  • You can’t accommodate everyone… but you can consider their experience. 

7. FOOD

  • St. Gregory’s: Coffee hour on the Communion table; St. Paul’s Chapel: food BEFORE church (in worship space); St Lydia’s: Meal & cleanup integrated into worship; Waffle Church: pre-homily goldfish. 

8. PAPERLESS WORSHIP

  • Our favorite liturgies were largely paperless.
  • At SGN, all liturgical instructions are given verbally at the point of use. 
  • In these liturgies, the congregation did not say anything in unison. 
  • Using paperless tools in paper-ful worship.

9. SUPPORTING ADULT CO-WORSHIPPERS

  • Parents need support and tools for encouraging kids’ liturgical engagement.
  • How can church support family spiritual exploration and practice?
  • Convene spaces of conversation & offer realistic tools to use at home. 

WHAT NEXT? 

  • Sharing & conversation
  • We’ll try some small stuff, & start practice of debriefing. 
  • Larger project: Reflecting on our liturgy together – current & future. 
  • Possible Intergenerational Church Task Force, down the road?  

In conclusion… 

“Remember, at their heart, our worship practices are not a matter of personal preference.  They are a matter of enacting our deepest faith, hope, and love.  Our worship practices are a matter of showing up and doing something we don’t quite understand in the hope that God will show up and make us into something new, something we can’t even imagine.  The practice of worshipping with children is no different.  It’s one way we, as a Christian community, enact our deepest faith, hope, and love.  We don’t have to understand it, or do it perfectly.  We just have to keep showing up and doing it.” (Sylvia Mutia-Miller) 

“… Start building. This work happens little by little, step by step, year in, year out. Work on the storytelling. Work on your prayer life. Do art. Come to the Table. Teach. Talk to one another. Make mistakes. Be willing to modify your ideas. Take another step. Watch how things grow.” (Caroline Fairless,  Children at Worship, Congregations in Bloom, p. 155)

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