Last August I told you that I planned to make a change in our weekly Sunday worship services by inviting our children to join us for the beginning of every service. It’s a pretty common practice among UU congregations, but not something we had done before. Instead, we had made room for a Time for All Ages just once a month, together with fully multigenerational services about four times a year.
The idea arose from feedback we received from the four meetings we had last spring in our RE Visioning process. Parents reported that they’d like more opportunities to be with their children in worship. And we staff, too, concluded that we liked the idea of beginning each service gathered together as one community.
I announced that we would try it through the fall season and then decide whether to continue the practice. I invited your thoughts about what worked and what didn’t about the new format, and I’m grateful that a number of you provided very helpful feedback. You may have noticed that along the way I have made a few tweaks responding to those comments. And we’re not done. I still welcome your thoughts. There are still some pieces that we’re working on.
So, what’s the verdict? Is it working or not? Are we going to continue?
My judgment is that it is working and we ought to continue. Let me share my reasoning. I begin with feedback I’ve received. The response to this change from parents has been uniformly strong and positive. Families welcome the opportunity to begin their Sunday experience together. And we’ve tried hard to make the experience at the start of the service accessible and inviting to children. We provide a story time and sing a hymn from among the songs that children are learning in their gathering time. And we’re experimenting with using pillows in the Sanctuary for some children to sit on during Time for All Ages.
Beyond the comments, though, I measure our success by a significant increase in attendance and participation by young families this fall. We now have 215 children or youth registered for religious education. Average weekly attendance for December was 142, up from 75 in December 2015. This influx is testing our resources, but it’s a nice problem to have.
The continued growth is good news both for the health of our program today and for the future of this congregation. But I also recognize that it’s a change in our culture, and especially for people not used to spending a lot of time around children, it can be a little disorienting. Kids can get squirmy, and the overall level of noise and energy is a little higher.
The situation is a microcosm of the way that diversity of any kind can push us, requiring us to put up with a bit of discomfort for the sake of being together. If you are one who is pushed by these changes, let me suggest that, rather than stepping back, jump in. There are many interesting activities going on in our Religious Education classes, and we’re always looking for storytellers to help with our Time for All Ages. How about volunteering every once in a while? The best part of doing that is you begin to make connections with our children and their parents, all of which will deepen your experience here and your own spiritual life.
I remember that when our daughters were growing up some of the most important adults in their lives in middle school or high school were congregation members who had made a point of getting to know them. Why miss out on the chance to make that kind of connection?
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister