Pastors of souls must therefore, realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated...it is their duty to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it. -- Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican IIIn an ongoing parental attempt to fulfill our happy duties as "pastors of souls," we try to actively engage our children in corporate worship on Sunday each week as best we (and they) can. That can mean any number of different things: letting them hold the bulletin so they can see the words we are to say together, encouraging them to sing along and explaining if we come to a confusing word or phrase (e.g. here I raise my Ebenezer), and sometimes just pointing to things that are happening: "Pip! Look! Here comes the dancer with the water. Let's see if any splashes around when she pours it into the font."
The hardest part of the service in which to keep the kids engaged is the sermon. So not long ago, during an uncharacteristically tired exhortation, I asked Philip to listen, to read the scripture text, and to draw pictures. I said "if you were preaching on this passage with your pictures, what would you draw?"
Here is a sample of the artwork he produced:
Active engagement is a bit easier when you're involved in some form of leadership. This past week it was a family affair: Debra and Jacob were playing viola and violin, respectively, and Mia and I were percussing. Before church, then, I invited Philip to try to learn a simple rhythm on the djembe so that when the drummers led the congregation in song at the presentation of the gifts, he could join us and offer his own musical gift. I sang the song, and he was starting to own the groove, but when I started cutting a counter rhythm he got confused and stopped. "I don't want to do this in church," he pouted. "I'll mess up."
"Well, you certainly don't want to mess up," Deb replied. "If any of the leaders make mistakes, no one in church gets their God-points that week." We all smiled at the family joke we use when we find ourselves caught up in behavior that implies that we worship in order to get something from God. Thus assured, he agreed to play.
Of course, he did a perfectly fine job, and his offering, along with any mistakes he made -- like the inattentive or insincere worship any of us make -- were still received by the Spirit, perfected by Christ, and offered to the Father.
But it also assured him to see that he wasn't the only one whose worship needed perfecting. For example, he seemed delighted to note that our pastor led us straight into the prayer of confession after our opening hymn, bypassing our usual liturgical Alleluias (perhaps he was especially eager to confess something?).
I hope that in all of this, our children are learning that the house of the Lord -- where they will dwell one day forever -- is a hospitable one, where they and their gifts are welcome and cherished. And until that day, here's a Pip-drawn picture of our prayer for them, one we hope each of them can own: