12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. (Genesis 9.12-15)
When I first came to St. John’s, we made some intentional efforts to make worship a comfortable and welcoming experience for all generations, which I shared in a previous blog. Making worship a more intergenerational experience meant having to make some needed changes to make families and children feel safe to worship with all the noises and unexpected happenings that children can bring. These changes were not always easy to adapt to, but we strived to change our attitude of what worship entailed so that our welcoming presence could be authentic and not just lip service. On our website, we state . . .
St. John’s believes that children in worship are important to their spiritual formation. Participating with adults in worship helps children develop a sense of belonging to a community and helps them develop their identity with the people of God and as a person of God. Our Sunday School program is designed to accommodate this.
We want our children to feel included in worship. We even have places especially for children in our worship space. Any time during worship, the children are invited to sit up front. There are pillows and a small table with crayons and coloring/activity pages. There are also books, stuffed animals, and interactive boards for little ones in the back. Children are not required to sit there. Rather, we want to create a space where children feel comfortable in worship.
Now with 85 kids from newborn to high school attending St. John’s which has a membership of around 150, our kids have become quite comfortable making St. John’s their home. Quite a success! However, with increasing numbers and as these kids are growing older, so has the noise and activity level in worship. This growth has created some growing pains. Worshipping in an intergenerational faith community has its challenges as well as perks. While worship may feel full of life with all the kids, it can also be a distraction to others. Because we were so focused on making St. John’s welcoming to families and children, one of the side effects became a reluctance from congregation members to “correct” children on rowdy behavior in fear that they would be judged as someone who subscribes to the “children should be seen and not heard” policy.
Recently, some incidents have shed a light on the challenges of being in an intergenerational faith community. During an intergenerational worship service that was designed for all ages, I found most of the kids (elementary school age) fooling around unsupervised downstairs and stage diving off the stairs. At the same worship service, a first time visitor emailed me about an incident with someone at the church that made her and her 2 year old daughter feel unwelcomed. The first incident shed a light that our kids who were baptized and grew up in this church truly felt the freedom to be themselves. However, now that they are older, the same carefree behavior they once expressed as toddlers isn’t as cute as they grow older. Learning appropriate and respectful boundaries was needed. The second incident highlighted that there is a growing tension with the increase in kids and those who feel distracted by them. Giving permission to express concerns and model ways to show respect for others’ needs was needed.
So, how do we allow babies and younger children to feel free to worship as they are while not be distracting to those who have challenges hearing or who aren’t comfortable with the presence of children? How do we meet the needs of the older generation as well as the parents who desire to worship with their younger children? How do we make worship comfortable and welcoming for all?
A start to addressing this growing pain is to establish a community covenant. Covenant is a common biblical term used often between the Israelites and God. Covenant signifies agreement, promise, and commitment. St. John’s is special in that we are intentional about nurturing a safe, open, real, and welcoming environment for all those who desire a comfortable worship experience and loving faith community. As a growing intergenerational community, it is good for us to remind ourselves how we can continue to go about respecting each other in worship.
With the growing number of children as well as children growing older and older each day, we covenant with each other to model for our children how to worship as well as allow our children to remind us to be open to the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit. Therefore as a community, St. John’s agreed to covenant with each other the following . . .
For the St. John’s Community:
- I recognize that being a part of an intergenerational faith community means that there are times, I must exercise grace, patience, and nurturing love.
- If the noises of children make it difficult for me to participate at my comfort, I will choose to move to an area in the sanctuary that is less distracting.
- I will model how to worship in an intergenerational faith community by doing my part to provide a safe, open, real, and welcoming atmosphere.
- If I have any thoughts, concerns, and/or ideas, I will express those to the pastors or elders.
For parents and families:
- As a parent, I will take advantage of special Sundays (like Interactive Sundays) to worship as a family and model for my children how to worship.
- As a parent of K-5 child, I will review the K-5 covenant with them about how to be respectful in worship.
- If I have any thoughts, concerns, and/or ideas, I will express those to the pastors and elders.
For Kids in grades Kindergarten through fifth grade:
Because I am old enough and an example to the younger kids, I promise the following:
- While in the ARK Program, I will listen to the teacher, engage in the story & activity, and respect the space and materials.
- If I choose not to participate in the ARK Program as described in covenant #1, I may sit with my family in worship.
- While in worship, I will sit quietly, participate in worship, or do a quiet age-appropriate activity (like coloring or reading) so that those around me may have a comfortable worship experience.
- During special worship services (like Interactive Sundays), I will do my best to participate with my family and not distract others by going downstairs unsupervised or engaging in loud conversation with my friends.
- During worship, I will respect others by not eating the food before worship ends or engaging in loud activity (like wrestling and jumping off the stairs.)
It is challenging to be an intergenerational faith community, but with the right boundaries and agreed-upon covenant, it is extremely rewarding. This covenant isn’t a “children shall be seen and not heard” policy, but guidelines that will give permission for all to express themselves in worship, in church, in faith, and to each other that is respectful, welcoming, and caring.
What has been your experience being a part of an intergenerational faith community? What joys and challenges have you had? What have you done to address them in your context?