Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is it time to end the "Children's Church" innovation?

Rod Dreher has an interesting post up about how some Protestant churches are calling for an end to special children's worship sessions. Rod writes:

On Sunday my niece told me that at her Methodist church, they’re planning to do away with Sunday school for kids during the regular church service. I was really surprised that they had something for kids to do while the service was going on. When I was growing up in this church in the 1970s, kids were present for the main service. As an adult, I’ve either been Roman Catholic or Orthodox, and there’s never been any question in either church but that children must be present for the liturgy. I didn’t know that any church did it any other way. I was ignorant.

Turns out that there are strong second thoughts among Protestants about an approach to youth ministry that treats young people as separate from the adult congregation. A new documentary — available for free viewing online here — claims that “youth ministry” has been a disaster.
Read the rest here.

Nobody's arguing for getting rid of Sunday Schools or religious education for children, but rather that segregating the worship community by age is not really a good idea after all.

As I said in Rod's comment boxes, I can't believe that when he was Catholic he never encountered "Children's Liturgy" or "Children's Church," which I've referred to here on occasion as “The Rite of Dismissing the Children So They Can Go Color Things." Many, if not most, Catholics have seen this: young children are called forth to the altar, a prayer is read or a blessing given by the priest, a "youth leader" holds aloft a book which is probably a children's Lectionary, and the leader or leaders and children process out of the church. There is, alas, no orderly re-entry process; the children drift back into the main church in a highly disorganized fashion sometime between the end of the homily and the beginning of the Canon. If the church is crowded, other adults may have taken the children's seats, leaving frustrated parents squeezing their young ones back into the pews somewhere around their knees, with plenty of glaring from those who stole the children's original seats as they are inconvenienced by the return of the little ones.

As to exactly what goes on during "Children's Church" I confess that I don't really know, though that has not stopped me from writing about it before. My girls never participated (despite some occasional pressure to do so). All I know is that what is supposed to happen is that the children are to be read the readings in a simplified form and then a little talk is to be given. This talk is not a homily because it is given by lay people (even though the original instructions call for a homily--but that would require a priest or deacon to conduct the Children's Liturgy). Crafts are most emphatically not supposed to be done, but that doesn't stop children from carrying aloft various coloring pages or Popsicle-stick art when they return, so I suppose people don't know about the "no-crafts" provision.

My view on this, as I've said before, is that all it does is postpone a child's full participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Is a five-year-old going to understand every word of the readings and Gospel? No, but there are plenty of resources to use to help a child understand the readings before Mass on Sunday. Are young children going to understand the homily? No, but there's no prohibition against them looking quietly at an illustrated Bible or other child-friendly material during the homily. And with each passing year, a child being instructed in this way will grow more and more familiar with the Mass, and more and more capable of entering with the Church in this highest and best form of worship.

What do you think? Is Children's Church, as I call it, a well-intentioned but ultimately bad idea? Or is it something worth fixing, even if it ends up being rather different from how it's often done today?

13 comments:

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

I know the parishes Rod attended while he was Catholic in this area and neither of them ever participated in Children's Church. I remember when the "Children's Mass" use to mean guitar music and gathering on the steps in front of the altar to have the priest give his homily while he sat amongst the little ones, talking directly to them. Compared to that, I'd rather have the other but ultimately, I'd rather see both go. Children learn to participate in the fullness of the Mass best when they are present for the full Mass. I know it might be easier for parents to send them off somewhere else while they get some peace and quiet at Mass, but who ever said being a parent was easy.

Charlotte said...

I have to think about this. However, I will point out the obvious: What children might be missing at mass as Catholics is very different (in my opinion) from what children might be missing at a Protestant service, although that depends, too, on whether it is a liturgically-based Protestant church or not.

Beth said...

Hmm...well, I also don't know A LOT about it, as my son only attended once, and is now scared to go back. He was three and I don't think he really understood how long he would be away from us.

However, it appears that it is craft free, and their supplemental handouts were nicely done, which I liked. They explained the content of the readings really well.

Perhaps the best situation, in my mind, would be a preschool age Sunday school that presents those same lessons for 30 minutes after mass.

My biggest complaint is when kids as old as 7 or 8 are invited to children's liturgy. I absolutely think that they should be attending the entire mass at that age. We witnessed this while visiting a parish while on a trip.

Charlotte said...

OK, I just read that article and it creeped me out because it was going down that nutty Protestant patriarchal path. Beware to the Catholic who buys into that philosophy because it's wholly Protestant and NOT wholly Catholic.

And the reasons cited in that article for not having age segregated worship/instruction have little to do with Catholic reasons for keeping kids in mass with their parents. For Catholics, it's about experiencing the mass. For Protestants, it's teaching/instruction. Two different things. And in fact, it's hard to tell exactly what the Protestants are trying to say in the article - is it about actual WORSHIP, a service on Sunday in the church? Or youth ministry? Seems the lines were blurred to me.

The notion they bring up there that being a youth pastor takes a child's heart away from the father and focuses it on the youth pastor is reaching a bit, if you ask me. Nothing against parents instructing their children in the faith. But to imply that all parents can (or will!) do a better job than a teacher/nun/youth pastor/lay person/priest is utter nonsense. Most parents rely on these people because they know themselves to be deficient or unwilling in some way, anyway.

The "age segregation" you cite here that goes on in Catholic churches were the minority actually pull the kids out of mass for 20 minutes is short lived, very short lived. How many kids over 8 or 9 even go? Pretty much it's over once you make your first communion. So to cite the stratified Protestant age-segregation that starts as infants and goes on into the 20-something years as akin to 5 year olds leaving mass doesn't make sense to me.

Sue said...

The lack of Children's Church is one of the things I love about being Catholic! I've never seen it at a Catholic parish here in Japan, and I'm glad. The Evangelical Free church we attended for 13 years before converting had the kids completely separate for the entire worship service. They tried having the kids in with us for about a year once, but there were so many complaints - mostly from parents who didn't know how to teach their kids how to participate and sit still - that they went back to separating them. That was one thing (out of many) that got me interested in looking into other traditions, which eventually lead us to the Catholic Church!

I, myself, never experienced Children's Church, other than the going forward to hear a kids "message" before the adult sermon at the Methodist church where I grew up. I do remember that the kids started leaving the sanctuary at that point and going off to children's church sometime in the 80's, I guess, when I was already too old for it.

I can't imagine having such a thing in the Catholic Church, really. It seems nonsensical. I relish having my kids with us at every Mass, and really wonder how they would learn reverence, and how very special it is if they were ushered out at some point to go sing and make crafts and have a snack!

If they weren't in Mass with us they wouldn't get to see their Daddy get choked up and teary every time he gets to receive Jesus in the Eucharist!

Annie said...

We don't have children's liturgies in the Orthodox Church. One of the benefits of infant communion is that one can't argue that our children don't belong in church. However, I've noticed that some Orthodox churches have succumbed to the temptation of the cry room.

I have a 2 year old and a cry room with lots of toys is like heaven to her. We sometimes attend a Greek church with a cry room that has slides and even a little pedal car. Needless to say, DD wants to spend the entire liturgy there. And it seems like there are some kids that do indeed spend the entire liturgy in the cry room.

Our parish doesn't have a real cry room but has a few beatup toys. What I struggle with is getting DD to understand that being taken out of liturgy isn't a reward. I strongly believe that when you have little ones, you have an obligation to everyone else to remove your child if he/she becomes a distraction. But if you remove the kid and then he gets to play with fun toys (as opposed to sitting quietly in church) what message are you sending?

Fundamentally I believe kids need to be in church. Take them in and out as needed during liturgy but they need to be in church. First, because they're a full member of the Church just like the rest of us. Let's not banish them. Second, because how else will they learn how to behave in church?

Nancy said...

I have to say I like the Children's Liturgy of the Word at our parish. I had no idea everyone disliked the idea so much! I would NOT like the kids to be gone for the whole Mass, but I think the younger ones enjoy the chance to explore the readings with other kids for a bit. My older one (9) usually prefers to stay in Mass, but the 6-year-old gets antsy, and he loves to go.

A our parish, they file out right after the Gloria. then they come back in a very orderly fashion while the choir is singing during the presentation of the gifts. I went in with the kids once to see what goes on, and there was NO coloring or crafting. They never come back with anything like that. They do a simplified Liturgy of the Word, with the children taking turns as lectors, reading simplified versions of the readings of the day. Then the adult facilitates a discussion of the readings.

I am just so surprised at the dislike of Children's Liturgy! I grew up Baptist, where the kids did not join adults in the worship service at all, and I completely agree that that kind of age segregation is not a good idea. But I feel like my kids are with me for a good part of the Mass. And they are able to have something just for them, to loo forward to.

Dymphna said...

I've been Catholic for 30+ years and I've never come across the children's church. It depends on how messed up your diocese is.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Growing up in a Presbyterian Church, it was routine that while our parents went to the main service upstairs, all the kids went to various Sunday School classrooms in the basement. It only occurred to me much later that our teachers were sacrificing their own adult attendance in church. We probably learned more than we would have attending church, and it saved us a lot of tension about trying to stay still and shut up during worship.

It worked. I believe it was common among other Protestant churches in the same city. We were not unfamiliar with the main service, partly because there were days when Sunday school was not held, partly because by the age of 14 or so we were no longer in Sunday School but in church.

I can't imagine any reason this should be A BIG DEAL to anyone, one way or the other. Of course Protestants to to church to worship and to learn, not to offer a ritual sacrifice. Excluding children from a mandatory ritual sacrifice might indeed be problematic from that point of view.

aticipme separite ... that sounds mystically on point for this post.

Alice said...

Three of the parishes I attended as a child did Children's Liturgy of the Word for a little while. I went to it a few times when I was 5, but then we moved away from that parish. The other parishes that tried it discontinued it after less than a year. It was for kids 4 to 7 (First Communion age children were expected to be at Mass every Sunday for the whole Mass) and the only craft was Gospel coloring pages. After a few months, both parishes decided that leaving the coloring sheets out for parents to use during Mass made more sense than trying to find several people who would come to staff the program during Mass.

To be honest, since the children are expected to be at Mass once they start First Communion Class (isn't that when Father Z's crowd thinks children should be brought for the first time anyway?), I don't really have feelings one way or another about it. Listening to the readings and the homily without my children would be nice, but I don't think Children's Church would be worth it. My 3.5 year old is just getting to the point where he will color the Gospel sheet from Catholicmom quietly in the pew, so he's not much of a problem. The 16 month old is the problem -and he's too young for Children's Church.

Locally kids are just expected to be at Mass. Nurseries are nice for a person in a mixed marriage or for a break from an impossible toddler, but in general, kids belong at Mass. The Lutheran church where I work has similar expectations. I think it's because we all believe (and I'm going to try to speak Catho-Lutheran here) that we receive Jesus in Word and Sacrament at church in a way that we do not even during Sunday School, so we want our children, members of the Church through Baptism, to be in the Lord's presence.

Kimberly said...

All of that Children's Liturgy stuff is just fine with me provided that it takes place before Mass. I was thinking as I was reading this that we use a book on Saturday evenings that does just exactly what you described the Children's Church doing, crafts and all, but it's done in the context of the family, prior to Mass. That makes all the difference. My daughter also attends Catechesis of the Good Shepherd during the week, so in addition to living the life of the domestic church, she has that to further her relationship with the Lord and help her to understand what happens at Mass. She is very well behaved at Mass and always has been for the most part. That's just one child, but again, I think timing plays a big part in all this. Why not have Children's Church 30 minutes prior to Mass, then file them in just before the processional?

Barbara C. said...

We do not allow our children to participate in Children's Liturgy of the Word for multiple reasons:

1) We don't send our kids off with adults that we don't know, and neither my husband nor I have any desire to miss out on the priest's homily while supervising the missing kids.

2) Since we have kids ranging from toddler to almost 10, and the Children's liturgy is supposed to be for five through 12 year olds at our parish...I really don't feel like dealing with the questions and confusion about "why she gets to go and I don't" in the middle of Mass.

3) I think it interrupts kids from absorbing the flow of Mass as well as disturbing the flow of Mass for adults. (I love our music director, but he insists on playing jaunty hand-clapping children's Bible songs as the kids file out and then we're expected to turn on a dime and quietly listen to the readings.)

4) We often discuss the readings and the homily on the way home with our kids, so they don't need to be pulled out of Mass lest they be denied instruction. And even if they don't understand every Mass reading or homily at age 6, it won't hurt them. Because I've noticed that children absorb a lot just by BEING THERE.

5) And if a child is old enough to receive communion than they are old enough to stick it out through the entire Mass...without having to go to the bathroom barring illness or emergency.

I did feel a lot more pressure when they first started it at our parish to send our kids. We usually sit as close to the front as we can fit everyone, so it's pretty obvious that our kids aren't attending. We have one of the larger families in the parish and all girls so far...we stick out from the crowd. But I think at this point most people have accepted that are kids will be staying in the pew.

Anonymous said...

Actually when I saw this topic, I thought it was going to be about the "children's Liturgy" - so on another, but related, topic... At many parishes in areas where we have lived, the "Children's Mass" liturgy is used at every school parish mass. I have been to these when my children were present, as well as in other parishes when I have happened on them at daily mass when I am traveling. My concern about these children's liturgies is that many kids today only go to daily mass if they are in a parish school and they go with their class to a school mass. They never get to experience a beautiful. solemn, daily mass. The words of the mass are all spoken not sung, and there is value in hearing these words at a different pace, quietly, in the daily mass. And the music is often contemporary and simple - fine songs - but young children can also be exposed to Adoro Te Devote or Ave Maria -also very simple songs, but part of our faith tradition that expose them to the richness of their faith through the ages. It's at least something to offer, at least once in a while, in lieu of the regular children's liturgy.