Look to the Children

A complete service for Children's Sabbath, with Homily by Pat Hoertdoerfer.
Chalice Lighting

We gather this hour as people of faith
With joys and sorrows; gifts and needs.
We light this beacon of hope,
Sign of our quest for truth and meaning,

In celebration of the life we share together.

Opening Words:  “The Task of the Religious Community”
(#580 in Singing the Living Tradition)

Hymn: “Wake, Now, My Senses”
(#298 in Singing the Living Tradition)

Reading: Kasserian Ingera /How Are the Children?
See below for full text

Music Anthem
(by Intergenerational Choir)

Prayer: "Third Millennial Prayer for Children"
by Marian Wright Edelman

O God of all time
Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity
Give us courage in our lifetimes
To make war on war
Which leaves behind waifs and widows
Rubble of spirit, home, and community.

Mothers, grandmothers, and all with a mothering spirit
Let us declare and demand:
No more war
No more violence and abuse
No more killing of our young.

O God of yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity
Our dwelling place in all generations
Give us courage to sow seeds of life and hope for the future
And to fight with all our moral might for justice for every child
Help us to pluck the thorns of despair from our children’s lives.

Mothers, grandmothers, and all with a mothering spirit
Let us declare and demand:
No more hunger
No more homelessness
No more poverty.

O God of yesterday, every child’s history
O God of today, every child’s birthright
O God of tomorrow, every child’s inheritance
O God of eternity, every child’s hope
Lift our voices against the spiritual and cultural pollution
Which leave dreamless and purposeless the fruit of our wombs.

Mothers, grandmothers, and all with a mothering spirit
Let us stand together and build a world fit for children
Calling all to serve, to care, and to act to leave no child behind.

Hymn: “Spirit of Life”
(#123 in Singing the Living Tradition)


Homily: Look to the Children!
by Rev. Pat Hoertdoerfer
See below for full text

Children’s Sabbath Advocates:
*Elementary school child talking about early education for all.
*Middle school child speaking on reducing homelessness in (your state) and the United States of America.
*High school teenager speaking about hunger and poverty in (your state) and the United States of America.

Hymn: “Guide My Feet”
(#348 in Singing the Living Tradition)

Benediction: A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort …
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger …
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears …
To shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness …
To believe that you can make a difference in this world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

End of Service
Reading: Kasserian ingera/How Are the Children? 
Adapted by Pat Hoertdoerfer from an excerpt of a speech by Rev. Dr. Patrick T. O'Neill
Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai. It is perhaps surprising then to learn the traditional greeting that passed between Masai warriors. “Kasserian ingera” one would always say to another. It means “and how are the children?”
It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai always place on their children’s well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer, “all the children are well.” Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place, that Masai society has not forgotten its reasons for being, its proper functions and responsibilities. “All the children are well” means that life is good. It means that the daily struggles of existence do not preclude proper caring for their young.
I wonder how it might affect our consciousness of our own children’s welfare if in our culture we took to greeting each other with this daily question: “and how are the children?” I wonder if we heard that question and passed it along to each other a dozen times a day, if it would begin to make a difference in the reality of how children are thought of or cared for in our own country?
I wonder if every adult among us, parent and non-parent alike, an equal weight for the daily care and protection of all the children in our community, in our town and state, in our country. I wonder if we could truly say without any hesitation, “the children are well, yes, all the children are well.”
What would it be like … if religious leaders began every worship service by answering the question: “and how are the children?” If teachers began every class by answering the question: “and how are the children?” If every town leader had to answer the same question at the beginning of every meeting: “and how are the children? are they all well?” If every business leader and corporate executive had to answer the same question at the beginning of every workday: “and how are the children? Are they all well?” Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear their answers? What would it be like? I wonder . . . I wonder . . ..
Let’s begin here and greet members and friends in our Unitarian Universalist Congregation with and how are the children? And before we can respond to one another “all the children are well”, what actions must we take in this congregation? In our community? In our state? In our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? In our country?
And how are the children? Working together, may all our children be well.

Homily: Look to the Children!
 by Rev. Pat Hoertdoerfer

Whose responsibility are the children? Are our people or our “tribe” responsible for the welfare and care of the children? Is government ultimately responsible for the care and nurture of a child? Who is promising the children a worthwhile future? What about the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child?” Of course, “village” is a metaphor for universal responsibility for the child. It is a metaphor for what exists here and there in the neighborhood or religious community. In these neighborhoods and faith communities, “village” is the metaphor for a state of mind, an attitude of communal caring and communal responsibility. When we say that “it takes a village to raise a child,” it is not to say that the family is not of primary importance; of course it is. It is to say that the neighborhood, the community, the nation, and the world share in the responsibility for the care, protection, and nurture of children.

This is not a new idea! Universally and throughout time there have been communities that have understood that children are the responsibility of every member of the community and the hope for every community. The Masai in Africa and the Onondaga of the Iroquois Nation in America today know and practice communal responsibility for children. But there were times and places throughout history when the communal responsibility for children has been denied. In the eighteenth century in the United States, children died of starvation and disease on the streets of industrial cities and died of lung diseases in textile mills. Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing wrote: “Our children are not put into the hands of parents alone. They are brought at birth into a vast and infinite school. The universe is charged with the office of their education.” A time, a nation, a people can be judged by the extent to which it takes responsibility for children.

It is a grim story today! In the United States today one in five children lives not only below the poverty line, but in abject poverty. Five million children are hungry. Twenty-five percent are suffering from some form of mental illness. In the mid-1990s, 50 of every 1,000 children were reported as having been abused or neglected. And every day 12 children under the age of 20 are killed by guns. “Now is the time,” Marion Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund exhorts us, “to end immoral and preventable child poverty, hunger, homelessness, and sickness in the richest nation on earth. Now is the time to stand up and show the children we truly value them. Now is the time to build a more just and compassionate and less violent society – one where no child is left behind.”

If our children are the reflection of our humanness, then we must look to the children – not alone as birth-parents, but as village, as community. For what we promise the children and how we care for them is the measure of the state of our humanness. A nation and a people can be judged by how they treat their children; and the very future of a nation and a people can be predicted by how they treat their children. Our humanness is diminished by the millions of children in need.

We must see our children and all children as members of the human family. As members of the human family every child is precious, every child is a child of God, and every child deserves justice and care. No child should be left behind. For the sake of the global village, for the sake of the human family, let us do justice for every child of God, not just for some, not just when it’s convenient, not just when there’s a budget surplus, not just when it’s politically popular. When we as a nation recognize that every child is a member of the human family, we will work for justice that treats every child as a beloved child of God.

Our Unitarian Universalist principles affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person – including every child. To promote the inherent worth of children is surely to promise that they will be protected and safe, well-nourished and educated, cared for and nurtured, and that they can have hope – the promise of a future. Our seventh principle affirms every person – including every child – as a part of the interdependent web of all existence. The welfare of each child is connected to the well-being of all children everywhere. Our justice principles promote a balance between the individualistic perspective of justice, equity, and compassion for each person – including each child – and the perspective of community advancing peace, liberty and justice for all. Our faith calls us to tend to each child, America’s children, and humanity’s children – to promote a healthy start, a head start, a safe start, a fair start, and a moral start for all children.

Every child is the promise of Life, the promise of our continuing humanity. Let us look to the children and promise the children that we will hear every child’s cry as the cry of our own life and greet every child as our own future. By opening the way for every child’s possibilities, we affirm and honor every adult’s parenthood in the village of all our children.

Our faith communities offer one of the last places in our culture for intergenerational contact. As families grow up and drift apart, let us seize these opportunities for grandparents and grandchildren and extended families and all kinds of families to come together in new ways. When we create the kind of faith community where our children feel loved and welcomed and safe, we heal and empower one another as life-giving messengers across the generations.

Our Unitarian Universalist prophet, Sophia Fahs, practiced and preached her ministry with children: “Put the children in our very midst! Let us give children opportunities to observe common things and happenings and stories that relate to their own experiences. Give them opportunities to sense for themselves the mystery in being alive and growing and learning. We would be companionable and sympathetic, joining children in their own wonderings and learnings and actions.”

Today we join with congregations from many religious communities across the country in celebrating Children’s Sabbath. Since 1982, the Children’s Defense Fund has called upon communities of faith to observe Children’s Sabbath as an interfaith day of prayer and activities focusing on the concerns and needs of children. This morning we will hear from three of our young people about things that are important to them – home, health, and education. Let us listen and learn ways to companion them in justice endeavors for all the children in the village.