Children are the future. But United Church of Chapel Hill and the Faith Formation Team of the United Church of Christ are working to help make the gifts of children a contributing part of the congregation today.
"Children are viewed by our Creator, by Jesus, as equal, not as little ones who will eventually contribute their faith and gifts and laughter and tears,” said the Rev. Susan Steinberg, associate pastor of children's ministry at United Church of Chapel Hill. "All of that is part of the church today.”
That's why the Faith Formation Team and United Church of Chapel Hill, in Chapel Hill, N.C., are partnering to share ways to use the gifts children bring to worship in an Inspiring Model of Ministry: And The Children Shall Lead Them on February 21-22, 2015.
"This event offers an opportunity to learn one way, maybe a new way, on how to do that,” Steinberg added. The church needs to take a hard look at how children are part of the life of congregation.”
The two-day gathering at United Church of Chapel Hill will bring together faith formation volunteers, church staff, parents and anyone interested in learning how to involve children in a meaningful way in their faith community.
"This experiential, reflective event will center around an all-church intergenerational Lenten retreat and a child-led worship service,” said the Rev. Ivy Beckwith, team leader of the Faith Formation Ministry.
"It will give people the chance to hear from Susan about her pioneering efforts, experience two ways United Church faithfully forms children, and brainstorm ways to develop similar practices in their own congregations,” Beckwith said.
The weekend starts with a retreat on the first Saturday of Lent as both children and adults discuss what it means to behold creation. Any child age 5 or older can participate.
Steinberg explains how United Church grew its children's ministry, which starts as young as age 3, in the last decade by creating worship services for children that are led by children.
"We started this idea of children's church about 10 years ago, as kind of an experiment to somehow help children understand worship and experience a full worship—from beginning to end,” she said. "We found that by creating a service that is shorter than a regular service, but has the components of a regular service, and when we invite children to lead that, they begin to understand the entire liturgy, so they start to develop that over time.”
About 10 to 15 children lead the service, responsible for ringing church bells, handing out bulletins, issuing the call to worship and reading passages. Over the years, more and more children are showing up for the child-led services, which take place about four to five times annually.
"We usually have about 120 people come to the service, and most of them are children, and the others are their teachers and families,” Steinberg said. "It's kind of an outreach of families with very young children.”
By the time they are in 5th grade, Steinberg said children feel confident, respected an honored, knowing the church is a safe and welcoming space where they can participate. "Through that confidence they can share their gifts, whether its singing or reading a scripture, they feel they can do it and want to do it,” she said.
"I hope they come away with some fresh ideas for how to engage children in the life of the church, and in worshipping,” Steinberg said. "It's a constant puzzle and challenge for pastors and church leaders to try to figure out how you reach children and their families, and engage them in worship experiences and education. This is an example of one piece of that puzzle for people to take away.”
Registration and more information about Let Them All Come is available on the UCC website, or by or contacting the Rev. Ivy Beckwith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-736-3875.