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Some of our group walked to the "point" after Vespers on Friday evening

Some of our group walked to the “point” after Vespers on Friday evening

At Family Camp this weekend at Pilgrim Point Camp, parents participated in a CE visioning conversation with 3 members of our CE Board (Chris, Sonja and Cecilia) and the Stephans, Roys, Beldens, Thompsons, Ackermans, Hackersons and Millers. We talked about hopes, dreams and challenges for children and youth ministry in this pluralistic age. We shared ideas and insights about what our children and families need and how Linden Hills UCC can engage in faith formation in meaningful ways. We spent quite a bit of time discussing intergenerational ministry, including the pros and cons of keeping children in worship. Check out this article by children’s ministry scholar Carolyn C. Brown that summarizes one perspective:

Many congregations today plan for children to be anywhere else rather than in the congregation’s worship. Sunday School is held at the same time. Children’s Churches are created to provide children with worship on their own level. (Some larger congregations provide a series children’s worship experiences for young children, older elementary children, and youth thus making what happens in the sanctuary “adult church.” ) Still other congregations simply provide recreation activities to keep the children out of the sanctuary.The argument for this approach is that children and worship as it is generally practiced are incompatible. Children live in a fast paced world that is very visual and participatory. Where else do they mainly sit and listen in a situation that is planned for people other than just children? They wiggle and add noise to a quiet room. The fear is that they will be bored and therefore will decide before they are able to appreciate it fully that worship is not for them and leave worship forever.

But when they are not part of the worshiping congregation children miss out. 

In the congregation’s worship we take our place among all of God’s people. Simply being in the room and walking through the rites and rituals connects us to people of all ages in our community. Children see the youth and adults that they know as teachers, coaches, and the “big kids” singing and praying. Families worshiping together claim the faith for the entire family. In some families it may be the only time they see their parents express their faith in a visible way. The stories told and songs sung by people of all ages have a different importance than those same stories and songs told and sung with only other children. Finally, worship is not an activity a child expects to outgrow moving on to another group. Instead it is a mysterious way of coming into God’s presence with people of my community. I may not understand it fully now, but I do expect to understand it more fully later and to be part of that community for my entire life.

Children frequently participate in activities they do not fully understand. If they feel valued in those activities and if the adults around them let them know that the activities are very important, children participate as well as they are able and look forward to the day when they will understand more fully what is going on.

Also, during the elementary school years, children are focused on the larger world. They want to know how everything around them works and who gets to do what. They want to try almost everything. That will not last. During adolescence the focus turns to my peers and our special activities. That means we have a very important window of opportunity to invite children into the congregation’s worship between the ages of six and about twelve. If we do it well, they will have both a home within the larger congregation and a foundational understanding of worship on which they can build throughout their lives.

So, how do we include children in the congregation’s worship?

First of all we do not dumb worship down for the sake of the children. We offer the full feast. But we plan that feast expecting worshipers of all ages to be present.

At the very least we include the concerns of children. If prayer requests are made publicly we hear with respect a child’s grief over a dead pet. When school starts, report cards are eminent, and the school year ends we include them in the church’s liturgy. (Many congregations are incorporating a blessing of the book bags into congregational worship at the beginning of the school year.) Holidays such as Halloween that are of special interest to children are noted in sermons.
We can also throw young worshipers life lines. We can tell the story behind a hymn before we sing it. Key vocabulary words can be identified and defined before a scripture is read. One aspect of a sacrament or ritual can be explored just before it is celebrated. The texts for the day can be presented in a lively way that both captures the essence of the text and catches the attention of children rather than simply read in a monotone. Such short moments of worship education are often appreciated by adults who are new to worship or need a refresher course.
Children are most sure they belong in worship when they become worship leaders. Children can sing, play musical instruments, read scripture, light candles, serve with adults as greeters and ushers, take up the offering, and more. In smaller congregations all that is required is alert adults to invite children to take leadership especially suited to their interests and abilities. A child playing Jesus Loves Me with one finger on the chimes is a real call to worship for the whole congregation. In larger congregations, plans must be made for groups of children. So, there are children’s choirs and acolyte groups. Children’s classes are asked to help prepare a scripture presentation. And, more.

Years ago I had a fight with a music director about a prime piece of time. He wanted it for a children’s choir. I wanted it for a kid’s club. He finally said, “Let’s be honest. These kids are going to grow up, probably disappear from church for a while at some point, and hopefully come back. And where will they come? They will come to the sanctuary. And, if they have been in my choir and learned the ways of the sanctuary, it will feel like coming home and they will stay.” He is right, of course, and that is why it is so important that during their elementary years we welcome children to the sanctuary and intentionally find ways to help them grow as worshipers there among God’s gathered people.

Written by Carolyn C. Brown (used with permission)
Click here to read more articles by Carolyn at the “Popcorn Index” of her blog, Worshipping With Children.

Why Children Belong in the Sanctuary

Mission Trip Day 2…continued

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ImageWhen we arrived back from our service projects today, everyone was exhausted! Coincidently, all four of our groups had spent at least part of the day weeding. Youth enjoyed free time for quiet reflection, showers, napping, and listening to music. Most of us napped!

After free time, we enjoyed dinner of soup, salad and garlic bread. Our evening speaker, Oreon Trickey, was terrific. She shared stories about her ministry in the inner city, as well as reflections on racism and what young people today can due to dismantle stereotypes.

One of my favorite parts of the day was our evening reflection. We reflected on the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts, and talked about where we saw signs of cultural diversity in our service projects today. Our leader, Krista, asked us to talk about whether or not our churches reflect multiculturalism.

Afterward, each group had a “spokesperson” who stood up and shared a recap of the group conversations with the larger group. Anders, Wyatt, and Sophie were the courageous Youth who volunteered to share these reflections, and Will closed us with prayer. It was evident that the groups each had different but equally meaningful and spirit-filled experiences in their mission sites.

Around 9:00, we entered into an epic game of Sardines, followed by half a dozen rounds of Apples to Apples.

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There is so much more that I have to write about today, but I must close here and get some sleep! It has been a rewarding and transformative day of service, fellowship, and discoveries about new friendships and God. Tomorrow, our groups will venture off to new mission sites. Stay tuned…

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Written by Cecilia Baxter, Minister for Children and Youth at Linden Hills UCC

Mission Trip Day 2

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Today we were greeted with beautiful weather. Our group has been split up into 4 smaller groups amongst the 4 adult leaders. Debi’s group visited a community garden and helped pull weeds and spread mulch. Cecilia’s group visited a converted homeless shelter that used to be a Holiday Inn. They spent time pulling weeds in their garden and ate lunch by the lake. Woody and Jameson’s groups were combined and visited The Gaia Movement Center which serves as a recycling center for plastics, textiles and earth conservation. They spread mulch, compost, pulled weeds and watered the garden as well as took apart plastic toys in the warehouse. All the youth worked very hard and accomplished a lot. We all met back at the church and had free time until supper.

After dinner we listened to Oreon Trickey, a minister in the Chicago area who also serves on the board for DOOR Chicago, tell her faith story and took time to reflect on all we had seen, heard and experienced. The staff here have all encouraged us to be open to hearing the stories of the people we encounter this week.

As we close Day 2 here, I am struck by how many stories the youth heard today and how much it has impacted them. God is undoubtedly at work here at First Church of the Brethren, at DOOR Chicago and here in this major city. May we continue to be open to seeing God each day this week!

Written by Jameson Baxter, Youth Leader at Lynnhurst UCC

Mission Trip Day 1

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Today we embarked on our week long mission trip to Chicago! It’s been a loooooong day of traveling, (about 6.5 hours to be exact) but we have had music, jokes, Faith Talk cards, and lots of snacks to keep us entertained in the cars. Around noon, all four vehicles from Linden Hills UCC, Lynnhurst UCC, and Parkview UCC stopped at a rest stop in WI to enjoy our bag lunches at picnic tables.

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About five hours later, we stopped at the Belvidere Oasis for dinner, where youth enjoyed choices like Chinese food, pizza, cheesesteaks, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and a few other restaurants overlooking the highway. We mostly just enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs and unwind a bit!

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We arrived at DOOR at 6:30 without a hitch. We were thrilled that all four cars were able to synch up our lunch, dinner, and arrival all with perfect timing! We were tired from the long day in the car, but energy picked up once we met the DOOR staff and got acclimated to our “home” for the week. The church is beautiful and the staff is so friendly and welcoming. We opened with a worship service with three songs that were new to our group.

Afterward, we played games and spit into two groups for a fun “orientation” of the building and the program for the week. We closed with a devotion and walked away with reflection questions to think about tomorrow throughout our day in service. The youth are eager to serve and enjoyed finding out which groups they will be in, and which organizations they will be serving in ministry with this week.

These are our service project groups for the entire week:

Cecilia’s Car: Sam, Wyatt, Anna

Debi’s Van: Jack, Grace, George, Stefan and Anders

Jameson’s Van: Sophie, Joanna, Kira, Eva

Woody’s Car: Will, Max, Hailey 

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It’s 10:00 now and we are all wiped and ready for bedtime! We have rolled out our sleeping bags and nestled in for the night. I experience God in this place as I see new friendships blossoming, limits being stretched, and heartfelt questions being asked.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us! Woody and Jameson’s groups will be spending the day in service at Gaia Movement, a community garden and recycling center. Debi’s group will be serving at Openlands, an urban garden. Cecilia’s group will be in service at Salvation Army’s Evangeline Booth Lodge, a homeless shelter specifically for families with children. Stay tuned…

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Written by: Cecilia Baxter, Minister for Children and Youth at Linden Hills UCC

God IS still speaking

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Last Sunday, June 17th, I set out from Lynnhurst UCC with 25 youth and 4 youth leaders for Camp Chi Rho near Annandale, MN for the annual TRUST Youth Mission Trip. The focus of our trip was to challenge ourselves and our faith communities on how to be more inclusive and welcoming to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We spent two days volunteering at Camp Friendship, one of 3 camps under the direction of Friendship Ventures, who offer outdoor camp experiences to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. What we encountered was something many of us never expected. We experienced warm, extravagant welcome both from the campers and staff. We made instant friendships. We sang, we danced, we laughed and we cried. Any walls we previously had up to insulate ourselves from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were deconstructed and torn down. Our differences faded and our similarities stood out. We realized there are no walls or barriers at Camp Friendship! You are seen as a person. Each and everyone of us. A whole, beautiful and incredible person. Nobody was judged and everybody was included. It was an incredible, holy experience to be a part of such a loving and supportive community. We experienced Camp Friendship for only 2 days, but what we encountered there we will remember forever. God is certainly still speaking–just ask any one of us.

Blessings,

Jameson

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