By Donna Olendorf
I love to watch children with their parents during church on Sundays. The littlest ones snuggle up against dad’s shoulder, smiling at being held by their fathers; the toddlers pour over picture books while they sit on mama’s lap; the school age children color mandalas in between prayers. And when one of them plays an active role in worship–by bringing up the offering or singing in the choir–both the child and the parents are beaming with pride. These scenes are common in our church. And they fill me with joy.
This weekend we recognize our Church School volunteers–the selfless parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and big-hearted friends—who sacrifice the first part of the 10 am service each week to teach our children about their religion. With the departure of our beloved Director of Children and Youth Formation last winter, the volunteers have stepped up their roles. They staff the Children’s Chapel with its Godly Play curriculum as well as the upper elementary classrooms and the youth groups.
These rich formation programs help build spirituality and deepen our children’s faith. The teachers take this ministry seriously and place great value our classroom instruction, but they also believe that attending mass and participating in the worship is key. For that reason Grace does not set aside separate Sundays as youth Sundays. Our goal is for everyone to participate in our worshiping body. We have children on our healing team, we have youth and adults as acolytes, we encourage young people to be lectors, and our youth and adults regularly sing together in the choir.
And in fact research has shown that young adults who remain active Christians are not those who had the most memorable church school experiences or were super active in youth group. On the contrary, it’s the children who went to mass and participated in worship who remain engaged in their faith. Those whose experience of religion was outside the sanctuary often abandon their faith once they leave home.
What this means is that church school can take a break for the summer without concern that we are neglecting our youth. So long as the children attend mass instead of church school, their faith is being formed. We are hoping that the slower pace of summer means that families have more time and energy for church. This break will also give the Sunday school teachers and volunteers a chance to recharge.
For our part, once Fr. Carlton arrives, we can explore some high-quality alternative programming, such as special service projects or one-time educational events. This will pave the way for a strong start in the fall. In the meantime, welcoming families during the summer months confirms that our commitment to worshipping God is not limited by our calendar.