Making Children More Visible Helps Others Appreciate Them
Sometimes it's not the big things we do for children, but the little things that show how much we care for them and how vital they are to our religious communities.
Certainly it's important that we pair adults and children in Secret Pal Sundays and do Youth Sundays and Religious Education Sundays. But in addition, many congregations find ways to incorporate children and youth in the week-to-week worship activities that show them they are cared for and valued.
At Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church in Camp Springs, MD (134 members), children lead the congregation in a sung-and-signed "Spirit of Life" as the chalice is lit each Sunday. "This has been a part of the congregation's liturgy for at least six or seven years, and it's important to the kids who participate and to the congregation," says Director of Religious Education Dawn Star Borchelt. "The signs aren't perfect American Sign Language, but they are an embodied spiritual practice."
At First UU Society of Albany, NY (353), a child lights the chalice each Sunday at the second service, says Director of Religious Education (DRE) Ann P. D'Attilio. The minister or service leader tells the congregation a little about the child, from notes provided by the parent. A children's class occasionally takes over the "kid's time" during that service. Classes have used that time to describe what they're learning and to present handmade banners, including one with their handprints.
Once a month a supplement to the congregation's newsletter highlights activities of children's classes including quotes from children that are thought-provoking or amusing.
At the UU Congregation of the Upper Valley, Norwich, VT (120), some of the children set up in a corner of Coffee Hour with a "Caring Kids Kit" and with craft supplies make Get Well or holiday cards for people in the congregation. They have interaction with adults while making the cards and often get thank-you notes back from the recipients, says DRE Sparrow Alden.
Lynn Stevens, DRE at First Unitarian Church of Palm Beach County, North Palm Beach, FL (211), writes an on-going story, The Chalice Lizard, in the church newsletter. "The story segments feature our religious education kids along with made up characters (like a lizard!). Over a year, each child will have a "part" in our story. The stories will reinforce UU principles, and I'm using the sanctuary, buildings, and grounds as the setting of the story to reinforce the familiarity of our beloved space with the kids."
Stevens started the story when she noticed a lack of anything written specifically for children in the newsletter. The story includes a connect-the-dot picture. "My hope is that parents will read the story with the little ones and show them the dot-to-dot to complete. Also, as I had hoped, adult members of the congregation enjoy the new pages and follow the story as well."
At All Souls UU Church, Kansas City, MO (400), families usher and act as greeters together. Young people sometimes light the chalice to begin a service. Classes make cards for the Caring Committee. DRE Lynisa Robinson posts articles about children and youth on a bulletin board.
Older people notice the youth activity, she said. "They'll pull me over to the bulletin board and ask me about someone's picture. Or they'll tell me about getting a card from one of the children through the Caring Committee. And I'll see them talking to the kids."
The interaction is having an effect on the young people also, she said. "When a teenager gets out of bed to come here to usher at the 8:45 service—and does it with his mother—it makes quite a statement. It means that he takes it seriously."
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