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.