Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Kids Are Alright

Our pastor is away at Synod Assembly today; one of our lay ministers is leading the service; I'm sitting in church behind a trio of young girls, sans adult supervision, in the front row. One of the kids is our acolyte; usually a very serious child, but today unable to suppress giggles at the prompting of her two squirming, whispering companions.

I love being in a church where children feel comfortable sitting in the front row so they can be up close and personal to the action, and where the grownups let them do that. I also love being in a church where little girls can watch a woman lead worship and think, "I can do that someday." But this particular morning, I'm feeling curmudgeonly enough to wish that the two wiggly-giggly kids would settle down and get with the program.

We come to the Eucharistic part of the service. It's always interesting to me how different celebrants approach the task at hand. Our pastor, who is usually so laid back during the rest of the service that visitors may momentarily wonder if they've wandered into a church of the wrong denomination, is very serious about the ritual choreography of the Great Thanksgiving. Our lay minister today, by contrast, approaches it in a very relaxed, unfussy way, like a mom getting ready to serve lunch.

Suddenly I notice the giggliest, squirmingest, most distracted girl in the trio ahead of me. She is now, all by herself, acting out the liturgical gestures of the Eucharistic prayer and Words of Institution, even though the celebrant herself isn't doing so. And the kid is nailing the ritual motions, with the grace of a dancer, at the right moments and with the right words, which she's mouthing along with the minister: She holds her hands out in the orans position; she lifts up an invisible host and breaks it; she bows toward the altar; she does likewise with an invisible chalice.

I'm astounded and delighted. The kid gets it.

What do children get out of going to church? You tell me.


Purechristianithink said...

Once we brought the tiny kids in for World Communion Sunday. My daughter, then three, took it all in. A few weeks later she called me to her room to look are the playdough creations on her little table. She said, this is the wine, this is the broken body and this--throwing out her arms--is Wild World Communion Sunday!!

LutheranChik said...


I know a church that has a pint-sized altar in the Sunday School area -- the church women quilted the kids altar paraments in all the liturgical colors, and the kids do their devotionals there. This is such a good idea.

When I was little I used to pretend-preach, much to my parents' amusement/bemusement. Little did they day I'd be doing it for real!

Lutheran Zephyr said...

Not to get all church order anal on you, but did a lay person preside at the Eucharist? Not that I'm entirely opposed to such a thing, especially in particular circumstances, but that does seem rather unique/odd/out of line with our church's practice.

Tom in Ontario said...

Same question

LutheranChik said...

We have two individuals in our congregation -- one of them is just a few credits short of her MDiv, the other is a graduate of the same lay ministry program that I've just started -- who have a special dispensation from our synodical bishop to celebrate the Eucharist when our pastor is away. How it works is, if the pastor knows he's going to be gone on a Sunday, he and our church council let the synodical office know, and the bishop sends written permission for that individual to preside on that Sunday in our congregation. It's all "by the book."

LutheranChik said...

Here's the way it works in my synod: Our lay ministry training has two tracks. The three-year LMTP program, of which I'm part, enables graduates deemed qualified to be commissioned by their individual congregations to engage in various in-parish or community ministry pursuits, or to help with mission startup congregations. In rural/underserved areas where parishes may not be able to afford or have access to supply pastors when their regular pastor is away, we may be given a synodical dispensation to celebrate the Eucharist in that congregation.

Persons who complete the LMTP program can go on to become Synodically Authorized Ministers, or SAMS -- another two years of more intensive training, heavy on chaplaincy, preaching, etc....SAM candidates also have to go through the same battery of psych tests as a prospective seminarian and have a lot more one-on-one mentoring and ongoing evaluation before being commissioned. They are commissioned directly by the Synod, rather than by their own congregation.

My understanding is that the SAM program is fairly standard from synod to synod across the ELCA, but that each synod's other lay ministry training programs are unique to that synod. I also understand that the ELCA wants to make lay ministry training more consistent nationally, and also more transferrable -- as it is, someone commissioned through the LMTP program in my synod may move to another synod and not be able to serve in an official capacity there.

Hope that helps.

Lutheran Zephyr said...

Not all synods permit lay presiders at the eucahrist. I believe that Lower Susquehanna (central PA) doesn't allow them - not for a lack of pastors, mind you, but because of that synod's practice of the order of ministry and liturgy.

Also, I work with ELCA congregations in synods from Metro DC through New England, and have seen a variety of lay education programs. I would LOVE to see some consistancy in the programs, so that we could have some "standards" for non-rostered, non-degree lay ministry in the church. But that would probably cause too many headaches when talking about the order of ministry - pastors, bishops, deacons, etc..

LutheranChik said...

Chris, I think you'd find a wide variance of opinion between synods with a mostly urban and suburban base and synods with rural/underserved parishes.

Our congregation falls into the categories of poor and isolated;-), so having lay missionaries available to fill in when the pastor is gone is a real help. There's a mission startup parish over in the next county who's had a lay minister for quite awhile now. IMHO, having this option is far preferable to keeping people in underserved geographical areas from the Sacrament because there's no pastor available.

Again, the practice of laypeople presiding over the Eucharist has some pretty restrictive guidelines...lay ministers aren't out there committing Eucharist willy-nilly.;-)

As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I'm not particularly eager to ever exercise this privilege, just because I think I'd be so nervous I'd commit spillage, or drop a wafer down someone's shirt (which happened to an online pastor friend of mine), or something.;-)