Our congregations are communities: communities of welcome, communities of inclusion, and communities where difference is valued. This is what we say and also who we strive to be. And yet, we often segregate our children away from worship.
If we do not include our young people in our collective search for faith and meaning, then why should we expect those young-people-become-adults to stay with us? How will we learn from them about the meaning they find? How will we have shared with them the customs of our congregations, and how will they find those traditions meaningful as they go forward into life? How will we — especially those of us who do not formally teach religious education —enter into meaningful relationship together?
Worship is in great part about relationship. It is weekly sacred work of the community. Inasmuch as we exclude children from the fullness of our worship, we deny ourselves meaningful relationship with those who come after us. As Rev. Robert Eller-Isaacs writes, “May we build a community in which this child will grow old surrounded by beauty, embraced by love, and cradled in the arms of peace.” If we would build this community, then we must do more than welcome our children for a 10-minute story once a month. It behooves us to open our hearts and our minds and our ears to learn from young people, for they have so much to share.
One way we can welcome one another and learn from one another is to celebrate multigenerational worship. In my work in Roman Catholic and Earth-religious communities, I regularly led multigenerational worship services. Children and youth were part of those communities, and so they were assumed to be part of worship.
Especially through my work with Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, I learned how to build effective, compelling multigenerational worship by attending to different learning and engagement styles and by writing so that children, youth, and adults of any age could fully, wholeheartedly participate.
There are times when children need worship time with just one another, when youth plan, organize, and celebrate worship with just one another, and times when adults worship just with one another. These “caucuses” are right and appropriate for all our developmental needs. And yet celebrating together is often right, appropriate, and meaningful for all ages.
Not every sermon is for every person. Not every worship service speaks to every one of us. That is as it should be. We are theologically diverse, with many ways of thinking and being in the world. Embracing difference means creating and joyfully participating in multigenerational worship.
Multigenerational worship is about delighting the senses. It is about engaging parts of ourselves that, as adults, we may neglect. It is not about “dumbing down,” for surely our children have as much to teach us as they have to learn from us.