While reading a book for a Sunday School class on adult spirituality, I came across the following quote which gave me new insight to why we welcome children to the congregation’s worship.
“For some reason, religious people tend to confuse the means with the actual goal. In the beginning, you tend to think that God really cares about your exact posture, the exact day of the week for public prayer, the authorship and wordings of your prayers, and other such things. Once your life has become a constant communion, you know that all the techniques, formulas, sacraments, and practices were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing—life itself—which can actually become a constant intentional prayer. Your conscious and loving existence gives glory to God.” (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life ,Richard Rohr)
The image of the congregation’s worship as a dress rehearsal for living a life in constant communion with God may not be the only image that describes worship, but it adds another layer of understanding for worshipers of all ages. As we seek to include children in the congregation’s worship it reminds us that the goal is not that they behave or even that they know enough of the songs and prayers to participate at least a little. The goal is that they acquire and practice skills for living in relationship with God every day. Our task is to help them adopt praise, thanksgiving, confession and accepting forgiveness, listening for God, sharing our concerns with God, remembering what we know to be true and making commitments to live accordingly as skills for living every day.
That means our task is to help them grasp not just what we do in worship but what it leads us to do every day. We need to help them see that just as they can thank God with songs and prayers in the sanctuary, they can go through every day with grateful hearts. Likewise, if they can confess and be forgiven in the sanctuary, they just might be able to do it in the back seat of the van, the locker room, or the lunch room. Over time the patterns they learn in the sanctuary can become the patterns of their lives. So we are not just inviting them to worship (no small thing in itself), we are rehearsing them into the Christian life. Not easy - but a worthy goal to ponder on a cold winter day in the middle of Ordinary Time.