A couple of years back I went along to a service in a charismatic church, which was somewhat outside my usual experience of Anglican Holy Communion.
We began with a time of worship songs, accompanied by a band of guitars, drums and keyboard. People sang, prayed (possibly in tongues), waved their arms and participated with emotion and enthusiasm for about forty five minutes.
Meanwhile what about the children?
Near the front sat three boys who spent the time in that kind of jostling, shoving, mock fighting usually reserved for long journeys in the back of the car. “He pushed me!” “He banged my elbow!” “Stop him!”
Further back a boy of about 10 or 11 spent the time on his ipad. Next to me the 12 year old girl tried to amuse her 3 year old sister while their mother took part in the praise and prayer. A smaller child paid about six visits to the loo…
Were these children invisible to the congregation? They had been welcomed on entry but after that no one seemed to be aware they were there – until the end of the praise session when they were sent off to groups.
The previous week I had been in a community church where the praise session lasted about half an hour. The children sat on the back row, kicking their legs, doing puzzle books and holding conversations about dinosaurs. They too appeared invisible to the worshipping congregation.
I wondered if these churches saw this time of praise as a coming together of the whole church family. But although the children were physically present they were absent in all other respects. I saw no child taking part in these times of praise.
It would be good to be able to say that things are different in middle of the road Anglican churches. Mostly they are not. Words to the hymns and songs are either in hymn books or projected onto screens. They need a reading age of at least seven years old which takes out most of the younger children and any child who is dyslexic. These children stand ignored, fidgeting in boredom, while the adults sing around them. Occasionally a token action song is included.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
The other week I saw a four year old joining in enthusiastically with the hymns, playing an assortment of musical instruments. Although this was almost her only participation in the entire hour long service, she was recognised and visible for these brief moments of time.
If a church’s musical standard is too high for pre-schooler percussion there are the quieter options of flags, ribbons and banners to wave. I have seen an evangelical church where four children came forward to wave long streamers during the praise time (and mini versions for all the children would have been even better). Some songs (for example Taize) can be signed. There are art projects that could add another dimension to a time of praise.
For I just don’t get it. If we are truly listening to God how can we be so unaware of the children in our midst, who are always visible to him?