Learning to Walk in the Liturgy

monastery walk

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

― Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

* * *

On Friday in the comments to Mike Bell’s post, Danielle wrote:

I would love to see IM discuss how to make liturgy more accessible to newcomers.

I would also love to see IM discuss how one helps children to relate to it – or any church context, for that matter. As the parent of a toddler, I pose this question to myself all the time. But I didn’t spend much of my childhood in church, so I have no direct experience with what it is like to be very young and in church.

Last week I was watching my grandson play baseball and, being the old-timer that I am, I entered one of the those philosophical discussions with one of the dads about the state of youth baseball that seems to happen regularly at the park. He thought the kids were being over-coached, and I agreed.

Mea culpa — I used to do that too when I coached, but now that I’m a spectator, I conveniently forget that and reserve the right as an American and former baseball guy to become a “pundit” and to pass judgment on the way my grandson is being trained up. A “pundit,” by the way, is someone who couldn’t do what the person he is critiquing is doing, even if his life depended on it. In sports, pundits are usually older, washed-up guys like me.

Anyway, our conversation followed the usual path until we reached what I think is the golden explanation for most of the madness I complain about with regard to kid’s sports: Children don’t play unorganized sports anymore. When I was a boy, the driveways, backyards, streets and open lots in our neighborhood were our stadiums. And it seems to me, at least in my memory, that we played a full schedule of games in those humble settings.

The friends I had were all sports fans. We watched our favorite teams and players on TV or at local games, then we went out and tried to imitate them in our pick-up games. At any given moment, I might be Sandy Koufax breaking off a sharp curveball or Mickey Mantle sending a shot out of the park. We mimicked their batting stances, their pitching motions, and the way the fielders we liked caught, threw, and ran. I imitated Ron Santo, rubbing dirt all over my hands, wrists and forearms before I stepped in to swing the bat. We even copied the play-by-play broadcasters’ voices and phrases, announcing it to the whole neighborhood when we did something in the game. So it was with every sport we played.

And that’s how we learned.

We didn’t learn the game playing on travel teams at age four or five where the coach taught us “proper mechanics.” We weren’t constantly bombarded by some adult guy yelling at us, trying to get us to do it right, putting us through drills and explaining the game to us. We had been baptized into the game already by our own free participation at the sandlot — we loved baseball, we watched baseball, we tried to imitate what we saw in the players we liked. When we got old enough to play organized ball, we already had instincts for the game. True, some of our “mechanics” as well as our childish notions of the game needed to be refined, even changed. But the hard part of what today’s coaches have to do was already done: we had baseball in our blood and no one had to convince us it was fun to pitch and hit, fun to make good plays, or fun to win.

I think church, and particularly the activity we call “worship” or “liturgy” should be like that. The point is, as with most practices in life that involve learning how to do something meaningful, we learn best by doing. Doing is the first step, not the step we take after we have gone through some thorough course of preparation. This is contrary to the way a lot of education is done, and it certainly goes against the grain of so-called “discipleship” today, where the goal is to get a head full of the right information first, then proceed to action.

You remember the old evangelical formula for studying the Bible, don’t you? Observe the text — Interpret the text — Apply the text. I don’t know about you, but whenever I have tried to follow that pattern, whether in my own life or with others in a group I’m leading, it doesn’t work. It simply doesn’t work. First of all, we usually don’t get to the application stage. We’re too busy talking about meanings and implications. We never get out of our heads. Second, when we do get to application, we rarely know what to do specifically and personally in our daily lives with the text we’ve studied. We end up talking in generalities about “what Christians should do,” rather than actually allowing the Spirit to form our lives through practice.

That is why engaging in worship and liturgy is more like learning to walk or ride a bike than studying algebra or philosophy. You just start doing it. As you do, you fumble around, you make mistakes, you forget the words, you can’t find the page in the book in time, you sit when you should be kneeling, you stand and look around only to discover that everyone is seated. Furthermore, you can’t see the big picture. You don’t grasp why you say the Creed here or the Lord’s Prayer there. You have no clue why the readers are reciting the various passages from the Bible. Why those books and passages today? Are they supposed to fit together or something? As weeks go by, you notice that the pastor and leaders wear different colors and that there are different colors or themes in the sanctuary decorations. About all you can really hang your hat on is that people come, sing, pray, listen to a sermon, and take Communion together.

You don’t know a lot, but you imitate those around you. You get more familiar with the rhythm of the service and it starts to feel easier. You ask questions when you can’t figure something out. As you go along, your brain begins to catch up with your feet and things start to make sense. You are being formed by practice, which is then assisted by growing comprehension.

* * *

bishopgreetingNow, as to Danielle’s questions, first of all how do we make this more accessible to newcomers?

A lot rides on the minister here. Does the pastor have a welcoming spirit toward newcomers in the congregation? Does he or she take the time to explain, in simple terms, how things work in the service? Does he lead worship with a good flow and make its elements clear and accessible? Or does the minister make the gathering feel like an insiders-only meeting?

Our pastor always makes a brief statement before the service begins, welcoming everyone and particularly newcomers. He says pretty much the same thing every week, but what he says is winsome, instructive, and designed to help visitors feel at ease. We print our entire service in the bulletin and so he directs them to that, and encourages them that if they are unfamiliar with certain songs or elements, not to worry or feel any pressure, they’ll get the hang of it.

I attended a memorable Roman Catholic funeral mass where the priest knew there would be many non-Catholics. He had inserted basic explanatory notes in the bulletin to help newcomers understand each element, and he verbally talked us through the service as we went. He did so in a way that was not distracting, it did not add length to the service, and it fit perfectly within the flow of the worship. It was a masterful job, and I told him so after the mass.

It also helps if the congregation is sensitive and hospitable toward visitors. Individuals in the pews can reinforce what the minister says by welcoming newcomers, asking if they are familiar with the liturgy, and offering assistance when needed. If the church has put together materials designed for guests that give a simple introduction to the congregation and its worship service, that would contribute to its accessibility as well.

Jesus childrenSecond, how do we help our children relate to the liturgy?

The primary answer is, give them as much opportunity to participate as possible. When I was a child, growing up in a Methodist church that practiced a liturgical form of worship, there were children involved every week. Some served as acolytes. There were different children’s choirs, age-graded through high school. Kids sat with their parents; we didn’t have “children’s church.” I loved being in “big church,” and I remember my mother showing me how to follow the hymns in the hymnal and watching her and my dad and the other adults as they sang, bowed their heads in prayer, listened intently to the sermon, gave their offerings, and went forward for communion. The stained glass and furnishings of the church were both familiar and mysterious, enticing my young imagination.

A pastor and congregation can encourage children’s sacred imagination and, in my opinion, that is a key to helping them love being with the church family in worship. Children’s sermons (a good practice in my estimation) are best when they are not overly didactic or moralizing, but when they prompt kids to feel wonder. Ministers should take advantage of whatever visual elements are available in the church’s sacred space. Point the young ones to them regularly throughout the service and even in the sermon. Recommend activities that help families practice the Liturgical Year and make sure that you link those with weekly worship. Encourage an active catechetical/devotional life in the home, make materials and training available to help families help their children love the church and its services.

I am sure there are other resources with which I’m unfamiliar (check your own tradition’s publisher), but I do recommend a little book by Robbie Castleman, called Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship. Robbie has long had a heart for helping her children and others love the worship service. Her book is suitable for those from a variety of traditions.

In the preschool years in particular, helping children in the worship service will require the attention of parents and extended family almost exclusively. Then, as they get older, the community of faith becomes more involved as children are catechized and given specific opportunities to actively participate in worship.

* * *

Becoming adept at the practice of worship and being able to participate mindfully in its liturgical forms is one of life’s great examples of learning by doing.

We watch.

We imitate.

We are formed by practice, which is then enhanced by growing comprehension.

43 thoughts on “Learning to Walk in the Liturgy

  1. Bingo. This is indeed a serious need, and though some have done similar things before (the ACNA church in florida,iMonk hosted their instructed eucharist a few years back), it is not common enough. Rest assured, many of us are working on these sorts of things.


  2. they are not capable of understanding the significance , or the deeper meaning of liturgy

    Neither are we. We grow into it, over time, as they do. I have studied it pretty thoroughly and I am still discovering new meaning in it, seemingly every day. Of course children can’t grasp it the way we do. They can’t grasp anything the way adults do. That’s not a negative reflection on anything’s worth. Most adults are a far space from understanding much about it too. It doesn’t follow that it isn’t worth doing.

    Here’s what kids, even those who can not read, can do: They can sit, stand, kneel, say the “Our Father,” and sing the Alleluia. They can slowly learn to repeat the liturgical canticles that they hear the same every week until it becomes very deeply ingrained in their memory. They can listen to the Scriptures being read. There is much room for easily accessible participation for them.


  3. @Tom C…..thanks for the kind mention.

    In all honesty regarding bringing up kids in the Church…I have one adult son who is extremely devout. I would like to think I tilled the field, but he really took off in his faith by being close friends with a seminarian who taught and challenged his adult faith. Son 2 is a lukewarm Catholic, who had his first son baptized but not his second, and who rarely attends Mass. The point being….and I know this is another post…..that all we can do as parents is our best to teach them. Needless to say, I pray daily for my semi-prodigal to find his way to a church. Don’t care what Christian “flavor”, but I would love to know he has Christ in his life.

    So, your mileage may vary!!


  4. I fear I’ve written this here before, but too lazy to back-check: The refreshing difference I’ve found in my occasional skirmishes into liturgical territory is that whereas in an Evangelical church the emphasis is on what I should be doing for God, in a liturgical church, it is on what God has done for me (or more properly, for us).

    As an aside, I think there is an interesting discussion to be had about the tension between doing what is ‘right’ (“we carry on faithfully living the liturgy as our fathers did and people will come, or they should” – but what do we do if they don’t?), and doing what ‘works’ (“this method was proven to work in 80% of churches with our demographic, lets try it for the next month and see if we get more Bums On Seats” – but do we lose any meaningful identity and roots in the process?).


  5. Robert, this is heartening to read. It’s fairly common to hear people say that they didn’t connect to liturgy as a child, a fact that makes me wonder how my son will experience it. I certainly hope that the prayers and creeds and those key phrases work their way into his system, and are available to him when he needs them.


  6. The longer Baptist or evangelical services with a long sermon in the middle require there to be a children’s program during the same time, or else children who have learned to sit still for exceptional lengths of time following a sermon as it winds through its many points and sub-points and puns. Some of these services can go two hours or more.

    Some kids do sit through the entirety of these services. I suspect that long services with long sermons either teach children how to follow some fairly rigorous programming, or else they deliver all the torture of sitting through a liturgical service that isn’t resonating, only for twice as long.


  7. Thanks for this.

    When I finally landed in my neighborhood Episcopalian church after forty years of evangelicalism, the silence, the chanting, the scripture and the prayers were balm for my harried soul. The bulletin was really a little service booklet, with all the prayers and music and scripture printed out. And right on the first page, newcomers were invited to see themselves as entering into a conversation that had been going on for centuries when they participated in the liturgy. I felt completely free to do what I felt comfortable doing, recognizing that I didn’t need to “get it right.” A lot depends on the people in the pews and in liturgical leadership. I agree with CaseyRoh, those “Instructed Eucharist” services are extremely helpful.

    This is an important conversation to be having: in our parishes/churches, in seminaries, in our homes. What helps me see and worship God in church? How do I enter into God’s healing work through the community participation in the Eucharist? My guess is that it will be different for each of us. The beautiful work of liturgy is bringing tradition, scripture, and the lived experiences of the community together for God’s glory.

    I found this blogpost helpful for my evangelical friends who have followed me into the Episcopal church:


  8. “They are playing an integral role in the mass; if they weren’t doing it, there would be adults doing exactly the same things. I don’t so much like a “children’s” service — a simplified or modernized bowdlerization of the usual liturgy — because it seems to me to insult children and annoy adults.”

    I don’t have the benefit of watching to see what works on my own children (it is too early for this). However, based on my own memories (not in church contexts), I would lean this direction. No doubt I benefitted from a lot of adults-talking-down-to-me and a lot of things being adapted to my “level” during my childhood. However, I remember noticing this and thinking that the substituted product seemed silly. Generally, my suspicion is that most kids enjoy what is intended for them, but they also generally know and like it when adults take them seriously.


  9. “it is not MEANT to appeal to kids…”

    This may be the way it has developed over the years, but let us not forget that liturgy is actually designed to make worship available to all people. Its basic forms and elements come from pre-literate eras, when participating in sacred actions was the way to learn, and everyone was invited to take part.

    Except for the more immediately accessible music of contemporary worship (which can be used in a liturgical service as well), I think that services organized around revivalistic appeal or Bible teaching are far less accessible to many people, especially children. This is exactly why “children’s church” was invented — “My little Johnny doesn’t get anything out of the sermon, can we please have something appropriate for his age?”

    If it’s all about learning the Bible or coming to an informed decision about Christ or a deeper life commitment, I can’t think of anything less appealing or accessible to children.


  10. liturgicals suffer from a lack of imagination.

    There is this tendency, but it is not as universal as you might think, and it is certainly less common in the Protestant world. Well done liturgical services are the pinnacle of doxological creativity, because they leave room for every artistic expression from the fine arts to pop arts, in an environment where they can seamlessly be weaved together.

    In other words liturgy is NOT patterned for today’s kids,

    I can see how your experience validates this assertion, but it is simply not universally true, either. I see many, many examples to the contrary every day (as well as supporting ones). The difference is not the priest, it’s the parents. If the parents do not understand and participate, I guarantee you that their children will not either. Where the parents are fully present and immersed in the experience, the children learn much through observing their example. The congregational leadership, however, does have the responsibility to make their worship patterns accessible through adaption and catechesis. This is certainly very hard work, which may be why so few do it, but the dividends are priceless.

    I just attended mass in Japan. There were worshipers of every age, and everybody who was old enough to talk participated quite enthusiastically.


  11. “…now that I have been involved in the standard evangelical system for 40 years, I have discovered myself yearning for a more liturgical influence. It seems that modern evangelical practice is more ad hoc and semi formal and it just doesn’t transmit a proper sense of the holy.”

    Oscar, I am also a former Roman Catholic who has been worshiping in an Evangelical church (same association) for 40 years this December. And I agree with you that we Evangelicals would do well to introduce some traditional liturgical elements into our “liturgy.” And yes, we Evangelicals do have our “home-made liturgy” and even sacraments to boot, but best not to call them that or risk being labeled RC, EO or, heaven forbid, a Lutheran!

    I say this because it has happened to me for daring to lead the congregation in singing the Doxology, ending the service with a benediction, and most recently for having a seven year old boy lead the congregation in reciting the Lord’s Prayer moments before his baptism.


  12. A few months ago I began the practice oh having children (one per Sunday) come up and read the text I will be teaching from. I then ask them to tell the congregation in their own words what the text says. I also ask them some simple questions about the passage. Of course, I notify them of the text and the questions well in advance so they practice reading it and prepare for the paraphrase and the questions.

    What I have found is that most folks love it (except for a couple of detractors), that the kids are encouraged by participating in the sermon and that it is much easier to get girls to do this than boys. In fact, to date I have found only one boy willing to do this.


  13. I hadn’t thought about it much until just now (when you don’t have kids, you can get tunnel vision), but any church that has a pastor promoting a sermon series entitled “The 30-Day Sex Challenge” probably REQUIRES a children’s service.

    Or it sure as heck should…..


  14. The best comment I have found on learning by doing was written by Mark Twain: “The man who carries a cat home by the tail learns something he could learn in no other way.”

    With best regards.



  15. Actually, some kids do tithe. I was taught in my church as a kid that all Christians should tithe. It has become a life-long way of life for which I am grateful.


  16. “instructed Eucharist”

    YES!!! This is what I see lacking in lturgical circles and what I meant when I said that they may lack “imagination”.

    CaseyRoh, may your ministry be fruitful!


  17. I can’t buy into Oscar’s view that they are incapable of embracing the unfamiliar.

    Didn’t say that. I said that they are not capable of understanding the significance , or the deeper meaning of liturgy because their minds are still developing.

    “Deep learning”? What is that? Ability to do mathematics? Learning means internalizing the stuff crammed into the brain. Kids, young kids in particular, may have an intuitive awareness of the holy, but the significance of traditional liturgy is not one of those things. They may get the point that it is important by the behavior of the adults around them but they are a far space from understanding WHY>


  18. Pattie, you make my point. Kids have to be prepared for liturgy. And just because they put up with it doesn’t mean that the liturgy meant all that much to them, It is a testament to the parent who prepared them. You are in a minority…


  19. I have always been at home in a liturgical/sacramental church, in part because I think I am “wired” that way. I know plenty who grew up with me in the Catholic Church (and Catholic schools for 12 years) who walked away, mystified and disconnected. I sometimes wonder if, in part, they just aren’t “wired” for that sort of worship.

    Now that I am an Episcopalian and heading toward ordination in the next couple years, I think about this topic of how to connect new people to the liturgy. A lot. One of the best things I have experienced around this topic as an Episcopalian is an “instructed Eucharist”, where the priest, deacon and laypeople walk through a service and explain as they go. There are lots of resources out there, I have heard. It was a nice refresher – and in parts eye opening – for those of us who have grown up in the liturgical church.

    The organist at my church, a young music faculty member, and I are cooking up plans to offer an instructed eucharist program with a focus on the service music (with the support of clergy of course) to students in the music program at the local college, as many of them may find themselves playing for churches someday, including liturgical churches with which they have no experience and whose service looks incredibly foreign.


  20. from infancy through childhood to adulthood, year after year hearing sacred Scriptures read at Mass . . . now the words come back to me, not as though they have been ‘memorized’ in a ‘study’, but like old friends

    I do know from watching evangelical worship services that sacred Scripture is a part of it, but I have lived the Mass through these many years and in doing so, the Scriptures have become closer to me than something ‘memorized’ and I am grateful for this

    ‘liturgy’ is a beautiful way to worship, and sacred Scripture formally read in community year after year becomes a part of their lives, I won’t say ‘effortlessly’ no, but in an unconscious way, absorbed and digested . . . to become strength and help for the journey 🙂

    some thoughts


  21. As for facilitating children’s experiential growth in liturgy: some liturgical churches (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopal) have curricula available to them called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd which begins as soon as children are out of diapers and continues into middle school. Not all parishes do this program but it is likely there is one in your area to tap into. Call around. Type in that program title in your search bar and several links will materialize for you. This is a great program that provides rich and deep age-appropriate experiences for children to grow with.

    I realize that with children it is difficult to get to church on time. But do so; and sit up front so the children can see what’s going on. They will learn by seeing and then doing. If they sit in the back, they see and experience nothing but the backs of pews or heads. Who wouldn’t become bored? It worked for Pattie’s family and it will work for others’.

    Children are lean, mean, learning machines. I can’t buy into Oscar’s view that they are incapable of embracing the unfamiliar. (However, if you as an adult model inattentive behavior don’t be surprised if . . . ) Such a view reflects a failure of Americans who collectively think kids are incapable of deep learning. Meanwhile their peers around the world are leaving them in their dust. . But that’s a discussion for another day.

    (Same advice goes for adults: sit up front — watch, listen, marvel, and ask the priest or pastor for assistance in learning more about liturgy.


  22. @ Oscar and Robert….I am no theologian, but did raise two boys by taking them to Mass from age five on(younger, if needed–they was no nursery available), including dragging their teenage fannies with the family. We learned very early on, thanks to reading and older parents, to sit as close to the front and altar as POSSIBLE so that the boys could see what was happening, even if they could not understand it. It was better than them staring at backs and knees for an hour.

    We read lots of age-appropriate books before church, talked about “Special Church Behavior”, used the chunky wooden rosaries and soft toys during Mass. (Best thing ever to keep a little one quiet—scotch tape. Make sure all books are removed from reach first!) AND yes, often had to take the long walk out with a screaming baby or fussy toddler or misbehaving older kid….but they literally grew up in Church, and our prayers at home reinforced our faith.


  23. Sounds lovely and practical, and pretty similar to how things are run in our RC parish. We have an intention every Mass (during the Prayer of the Faithful) for “those who are here for the first time, or returning after a long absence, that they may find welcome and peace, and return.”


  24. Did you prepare a different presentation for different age groups of children, since their ability to comprehend or be engaged would be very different based on small differences in age?

    I just don’t see how this is preferable to, or more suitable for children than, what goes on in churches with more traditional liturgies. And I’m not sure that evangelical style worship would be the one children would spontaneously move toward, if they could make a choice, rather than the more kinetic, all senses involved liturgical worship.

    It’s even possible that evangelical style worship is really what the young parents prefer, and they impose it on their kids


  25. “In other words liturgy is NOT patterned for today’s kids, it is for the edification of adults.”

    Couldn’t you say exactly the same about the long, wordy sermons that are such a central and big part of evangelical worship?


  26. Robert, all I can tell you is what I experienced. For 10 years my wife and I were in charge of “Children’s Church” where we tried to mimic the adult service in a way that kids could comprehend. It was much shorter and was usually concluded with a bible based activity.

    In our current church the “Children’s Pastor” does much the same thing, even including Communion at an age appropriate stage. The, once a month, the kids all sit in on the general service untill the sermon so that they can become familiar with it.

    How successful were/are these activities? Who knows? But I HAVE run into former kids, now adults, who remember my Children’s church fondly.


  27. Our church’s current “motto” is “Belong, Believe, Become.” I kinda like it, seems to fit yours in a way.


  28. Speaking for my own experience as a child and an adult: I don’t remember very much about any sermon, not even the two good ones I heard in the last two weeks, aside from the fact that I thought they were good; I do remember the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed, large sections of the Nicene Creed, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only speak the word and my soul shall be healed,” the experience of going up to receive communion “The Body of Christ, given for you,” “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,” and a thousand other little things I’ve been rehearsing in churches since childhood. These anchor my soul on a daily basis.


  29. And do children, either young or a little older, understand the 40 minute long expository or topical-life/application sermons given in evangelical style worship? Or are they sent packing to another room? I ask because I don’t know, not having been part of an evangelical church.


  30. Children, especially young children ARE a big issue in liturgical churches. Kids are immediate, kids have no concept of ancient, nor tradition. Their lives revolve around their own developing senses and experiences. The things that transfix adults because of the depth of the subject are just white noise and boredom to the youngsters. It take time, a LOT of time, before kids can appreciate what the liturgy stands for and what it is trying to impart. In other words liturgy is NOT patterned for today’s kids, it is for the edification of adults.

    After spending 13 years in the Catholic church and Catholic education, the whole ebb and flow of the liturgy remained random and almost senseless to me. Sure, the Eucharist was accessible, but other than the closing declaration nothing else caught my interest. I know someone here will say that the priests may not have been communicating well, but my experience spanned a number of different settings, but the effect was the same.

    Not so coincidentally, now that I have been involved in the standard evangelical system for 40 years, I have discovered myself yearning for a more liturgical influence. It seems that modern evangelical practice is more ad hoc and semi formal and it just doesn’t transmit a proper sense of the holy. Of course, now I am in the final quarter of my life, with a larger, more complex, palette of experience and understanding. I can appreciate and welcome the constancy and subtlety of a liturgical setting. But I am not a child, or even a young person, who can’t comprehend why constancy is important.

    Too much is being made of “the way it has always been done”. There MUST be a way of transmitting liturgy in a way that even a child can relate to. Imagination in presentation is required, but THAT is where we run into resistance. If the evangelical church suffers from a lack of the sense of the holy, the liturgicals suffer from a lack of imagination. It’s a dichotomy that will always exist, yet Christ STILL builds His Church!


  31. I was raised in a liturgical church in the era when children were to be seen and not heard but was always captured by the mystery that surrounded me. As a young adult looking for a faith experience more in tune with the changing times I ended up in the evangelical world as many on this site have done. 20 years went by and a bad church breakup left me broken and questioning. The thing that kept me going, that renewed my faith were the words from the liturgy of my childhood. The creeds, Lord’s Prayer, familiar scriptures read year after year, hymns and benedictions came to me again and again and brought life to a broken soul. Children are like sponges they may not understand what liturgy is all about but do soak it up.
    The church I attend today has moved away from the traditional Evengelical practice to adopting more and more liturgical elements as we move toward a Jesus shaped spirituality.


  32. A newcomer to an orthodox parish is pretty obvious, which definitely helps.

    If they aren’t familiar with orthodoxy in general, they walk in and look around confusedly, then usually go sit in a folding chair awkwardly. At our parish, our practice is for whoever notices them first to go over and introduce themselves and make sure they have a liturgy booklet, offer them whatever help they need, make sure they know it is ok to sit, etc. When we do it right, we don’t swarm the new person, but they have a friendly face they can ask if they get lost. Then whoever ends up standing around them helps them through stuff and brings back some antidoron at communion.

    If they are orthodox or have attended a bunch of orthodox services, they look more confident, take the lay of the room, and go from there. They get welcomed and invited to come sing the service with us, then left alone till after the service when we can find out where they are from and how they came to be with us on this occasion. If they get lost in how we organize the paperwork, someone will head over and sort them out.

    Our Sunday morning services have booklets with everything the congregation standardly does in them, with notes for where the propers happen and that they can be found on a music stand (those are spread throughout the nave) or that during festal periods there may be a different song here. None of that stops your first Divine Liturgy from being a somewhat overwhelming train of song, but at least you can tell where the train is most of the time.

    Our parish is full of folks from many different backgrounds, and as such we are pretty non-uniform in our movements. I found this helpful as a newcomer – I was never the only guy not crossing myself in lockstep or bowing or what have you. Most people did those things, but often at different times of the service or relative to particular prayers, and in a variety of ways. I wasn’t sure what the “right” way to do it was, but I didn’t feel left out either.


  33. We too have children take part regularly, usually with their parents, greeting and handing out bulletins, collecting the offering, and assisting with Communion, etc. It always reminds me that we are a church FAMILY.


  34. I wonder what Mike Bell’s response will be. 😉 In the meanwhile, this is (or should be) yet another example of how the church needs to be countercultural – yes, there *are* things that, while there are symbolic significance to them, we do because that’s what Christians throughout time *have always done*. No, your desire for “choice” and “novelty” aren’t up on the priority list. You are here to worship and learn? “Does this offend you…?”


  35. Like you, CM, I like the participation of children in the workings of the liturgy. I especially like how our church does it. We occasionally will have an entire mass or special service “run” by the children, but even on an average day, there are acolytes, sometimes lectors, ushers, etc., who are children — but they are not doing “children’s” things. They are playing an integral role in the mass; if they weren’t doing it, there would be adults doing exactly the same things. I don’t so much like a “children’s” service — a simplified or modernized bowdlerization of the usual liturgy — because it seems to me to insult children and annoy adults.

    Danielle, decades ago, when Chaplain Mike was my pastor and I had mobs of small savages who rarely let me stay through an entire hour, he reminded me of the “sacrifice” of praise. I often felt exhausted, not uplifted, by the service after wrestling with my kids — but in order to obey God and be a good mother, I was there every week, “sacrificing” my own spiritual experiences for the sake of others. Looking back, the time didn’t last that long, and for many years now my four children have loved church and are a delight to be with.


  36. “You just start doing it. As you do, you fumble around, you make mistakes, you forget the words, you can’t find the page in the book in time, you sit when you should be kneeling, you stand and look around only to discover that everyone is seated. ”

    You start to doze during the sermon, even when you are seated up in the choir, and wake suddenly with a start, wondering anxiously if anyone noticed, but then feel a little better when you see the preaching pastor’s husband dozing in the front pew…

    Great post. Good advice. Especially the part about involving kids in regular worship as much as possible rather than sending them off to separate children’s church. Many of the things that I rehearsed as a child during liturgical worship as a child in the Roman Catholic church are things that stay with me to this day, and enrich the depth of my worship in Episcopal and Lutheran settings. The years of catechismal instruction, on the other hand, did not stick, and I had to re-acquaint myself with much of that as an adult as if for the first time when I was moving back toward the Church after having been away for a time.

    Oh, and I happen to like the “dresses” on the priests/ministers, and on the choirs, so don’t make them stop wearing them, contra what david brainerd says; I don’t care what they look like to “modern eyes,” or “post-modern eyes,” for that matter.


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