Pentecost Joy: The Faces of Children
The Rev. Sally Maxwell, Priest in Charge at St. James, Hibbing, shares the joy that children can bring to to worship.
A few weeks ago there were four small children at St. James’ worship. This was unusual for us, and I must admit that we let them have the run of the place. What else could we do, with two of them being two year olds (or almost two)? One child was still a babe in his parent’s arms yet somehow we did not hear a peep out of him.
The almost-two-year-olds really were in charge of the liturgy, though we kept on track as best as we could. After all, how does one explain the logic of “being quiet in church” to a child for whom that doesn’t make sense in his or her stage of development? No, it’s best to smile and clap and punctuate their excitement with words like “yay”. To their credit, the sermon was shorter than usual!
One little guy exhibited his intellectual and language development by clearly stating “Amen” after the absolution. I don’t know if he was copying the priest or echoing his parent’s response, but it was the cutest most hysterically funny thing I’d heard in awhile. Then he did it again later in the worship, precisely pronouncing “Amen” with uncanny timing. His family said that he typically speaks with just one word (no phrases or sentences yet), so “Amen” fit his style. I can hardly wait to hear him responding to, “The Lord be with you”, with “And also with you.” Now that will be a graduation of sorts!
There was a transformation happening for us adults that morning. We were more spontaneous, more bubbly, more bursting with joy, more tolerant of random noise and movements. The kids’ joy was infectious. We needed this because it had been a particularly bad week on the world’s stage, marred by one violent event after another. It wasn’t clear to us how to cope or maintain hope. Here it was: we could take a step back and insert laughter into our prayers. And let me say again that the sermon WAS shorter, which is a good thing.
A few weeks later as we worshiped outdoors under the breezes in the birch and maple trees, we experienced more transformation in the presence of children. This time it was youth of elementary school age, the visiting grandchildren of a member. One could tell that they had spent a lot of time in church, because they said aloud the traditional prayers from memory. It made my heart sing to hear one of them say the words of our corporate confession by heart while the other boy said the Lord’s Prayer. And they were super attentive, giving good eye contact to the minister. One little boy looked right at me (the minister) and smiled a lot. I felt ministered to by this sweet child. These kids cared about God and worship. The presence of Jesus in them was palpable. Looking at their attentive and smiling faces, how could I ever lack hope for the world; even though, yes, it had been another hard week in the chaos of the world.
The next week another set of kids came and they seemed not as attentive, but a lot more sleepy. They were just plain tired, perhaps after their summer travels, and granted the air was becoming more hot and humid by the minute (and we didn’t take their cue to shorten the sermon this time) but this day was transformational because it was about love. The tired little girls curled up on the laps of their parents and closed their eyes and seemed to bask in parental love. They didn’t even have to ask for it. Whether they were at home, or at a worship service, Mom and Dad’s love was a given. You could tell that being comforted by their parents was not foreign to them. Here was Jesus again, providing love and mercy for the world and for them. I was mesmerized. Thank you, God, for the faces of children and for the transformation that they call out within us.