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Children Help Create Own Worship at Davis

By Donald E. Skinner

The Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Davis, CA, wanted to find a way six years ago to do two things: Create a worship service that focused on children in worship, and do it in a way that allowed them to move around.

What they created is a half-hour service for kids and parents called Spirited Worship. Sandwiched between the 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. “adult” services (and held in the same space), Spirited Worship attracts from 10 to 60 people in a church of 316 people and has become an integral part of Sunday morning.

It begins with opening words and a greeting done by an adult and a child. Each Sunday young worship associates also demonstrate a new handshake they have created to be used by everyone that day. There’s an opening song, a chalice lighting, and an invitation to share “milestones” by dropping stones into a fountain. Then there’s a Question Bag, where kids respond to a question such as “What is it that makes you the happiest?” That’s followed by a story lesson of five to seven minutes, an offering, and closing words.

The service generally uses the same theme that children will be taking up in their religious education classes that morning. “We wanted a way to better integrate themes in worship and Religious Education (RE) and to offer a service led by children,” says the Rev. Beth Banks. “Before Spirited Worship we had children in the adult service for the first few minutes, but now they have a fuller worship experience and a sense of ownership.”

Movement is a big part of this middle service. On one Sunday the intern for the year, Wendy Williams, placed a screen across the room, with kids on one side and hidden chocolate candies on the other. “The kids had to find a way to get the candy without running or walking,” says Banks. “They rolled, crawled, and hopped to get the prizes. That led to a discussion about how each of us find truth in a little different way.”

“The offering has become really important,” says Banks. “Everyone in Spirited Worship gets a vote on what the money should go for. Last year we raised $1,500 for solar cookers for an international project. The kids love to see their money grow, and they love to give it away. The adults in the congregation were stunned that that much money comes out of Spirited Worship. This year Spirited Worship is raising money for an orphanage in Haiti and the project has become very important to the children.”

Kate Raymond, director of Lifespan Learning, says anyone can attend the service, but most are children from kindergarten to sixth grade and some of their parents. Movement makes it work, she says. “We get to dance to the hymns, talk with each other, get up and share a milestone and light the chalice. It’s a short, active service with a message that our families enjoy.” Religious education is offered at both of the other morning services. The 11:15 a.m. service is the most popular with parents, says Banks.

Raymond, Banks, an intern minister, and volunteering families have all shared the leadership of Spirited Worship. Musicians regularly volunteer their time also. “This year we’re doing many of the activities and messages from Windows and Mirrors, one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Tapestry of Faith curricula,” says Raymond. “That ties into the larger church’s theme of studying world religions and appreciating others’ views.”

There have been moments that stood out. “A couple of years ago, at the beginning of our capital campaign, one of our interns, Elaine Aron, led a lesson that had our children trying to all help each other stand on a smaller and smaller piece of cloth,” says Raymond “The point of the story being that we want to have a big enough building to welcome all who want to come. Everyone had a great time, and the lesson was crystal clear!”


  • The Unitarian Universalist Association's Tapestry of Faith religious education curricula may be found online.
  • For another perspective on how UU congregations do multigenerational worship, read the InterConnections article from last March, Making Worship Part of Kids’ Lives, a profile of worship at the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Ellisville, MO, where children are included in the first half of each service.

About the Author

Donald E. Skinner

Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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