Children’s chapel can mean many things in many different contexts. When I talk about children’s chapel, I’m talking about a program which provides children a space in which to actively participate in and lead worship in ways that are pedagogically accessible. As I have put together such programs in the parishes I’ve served this has taken the form of something I call “prayer book-centered children’s chapel.” That is, a children’s chapel program which is rooted in the liturgies and traditions of The Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Why Offer Prayer Book Centered Children’s Chapel
The prayer book norms an Episcopal parish’s life of corporate worship from near the start of life (with the service of Holy Baptism) until its end (with the Ministration at the Time of Death). As we journey between this life’s beginning and its end, one particular liturgy stands out as a font of grace for us all: the Holy Eucharist. And yet many churches have difficulty figuring out how kids fit into this weekly sacramental celebration. One way I believe children can be invited into the life of Eucharistic worship is through prayer book-centered children’s chapel.
Children Take The Lead
Through such an offering, children are given their own space in which to take up leadership roles in the liturgy. In our children’s chapel space, we set up a small altar and candles along with our lectionary book in order to center the space and to immediately invite kids to take an active role there. Children can…
- light the candles (with some help, depending on their age)
- retrieve the book from the altar
- read the day’s lections
- participate in an activity responding to the readings
- declare their faith in God
- pray for themselves and others
- share the Peace
Children’s Leadership Matters
Offering these leadership opportunities in children’s chapel serves two purposes. First, it brings kids into the rhythms of prayer book-based worship in a way which is concretely tied to the liturgies adults are used to. That is to say, what they do is the first half of the liturgy for Holy Eucharist at its core; it’s just that it’s been adapted into a form they can better get their hands, heads, and hearts around. And second, it prepares kids to depart children’s chapel and take up their places in corporate worship as acolytes, lectors, and more. That is to say, it doesn’t just give the kids something to do, it teaches them things to do.
The Liturgy: A Brief Walkthrough
As such, the liturgy below largely mirrors the Liturgy of the Word (that is, everything from the start of the service through the Peace) from Holy Eucharist Rite II. In this format, kids begin the service in the sanctuary with everyone else and remain there until after the Collect of the Day. At that point, children are invited to come to the children’s chapel space for our own liturgy. This liturgy purposefully ends at the Peace so as to ensure that the whole congregation is together to share one bread and one cup each week during the Liturgy of the Table.
Below is an outline of the liturgy I have used most recently with my parish, along with some reflections and annotations. To download an outline of the liturgy without notes, click here.
Music plays a fundamental part in the corporate worship of Christian communities and has done so for millennia. A fun, relatively simple song from the Hymnal (or elsewhere) can be a great way to gather kids together. As a bonus, the Gathering Song can serve to help kids practice a song sung together in corporate worship.
Hearing God’s Word
Here we mirror the opportunity to hear God’s words for us in Scripture which adults are hearing in their service. I have typically done two readings each week: the psalm and the Gospel. This way kids are exposed to both the Old and New Testaments every week. Children should always be invited to be readers both because it empowers them as leaders in the Children’s Chapel space and because it helps prime them to read Scripture in worship. After each reading, I always remind the kids, “Now, we just heard the Word of the Lord for us from Scripture, so what do we say?” And they reply (if they remember!) “Thanks be to God!”
Responding to God’s Word
At this point, something like a children’s sermon or lesson is offered which parallels the sermon that adults are hearing. This piece of the liturgy is the most variable and can change quite a bit from week to week. Sometimes I have told a Godly Play story relevant to the readings, other weeks we have read a related storybook together, other times still, we play a game or do some other activity together. The important thing is that kids are given an opportunity to further reflect on the day’s readings.
Affirming Our Faith
The gist here is that “Affirming Our Faith” fills the role of the Nicene Creed in the standard Eucharistic liturgy. It’s important for kids to understand that part of what binds us together in Christian community is what we believe about God, and this is an excellent place to instill some basics. I’ve opted here to go with an adaptation of our Baptismal Covenant as that has both facets addressing what we believe and what we do with that belief. I would strongly recommend against anything like a “Children’s Creed” or adapting other doctrinal statements for use here. The prayer book gives us two theologically solid options in the Covenant and the Creed, so there shouldn’t be real need to go elsewhere or try to oversimplify beyond them (especially since kids often understand significantly more than we give them credit for).
Praying for Others
This part is fairly straightforward. A hallmark of Christian worship is praying for each other, and the prayer book’s litanies of Prayers of the People are easily adapted to be used by kids. What I have found to be simplest here is to pick the form you’d like to use from the prayer book and then keep the core of the petitions while changing up the specific wording. You can compare Form II and prayers in this outline to see the sort of style I have here, but let it be suggestive to you rather than prescriptive!
This is an easy one since we just do the thing exactly as the prayer book already says to do! I try to time this so we’ll head back into worship with everyone else during or immediately after the Peace.
You are free to adapt this outline for your own church’s use. The additional resources below may be of help. Children’s chapel can be a great opportunity for truly hands-on Christian formation, and I pray that the Spirit would guide you in using these tools in your own ministry.
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