Children can be familiarized with the order and flow of a worship service, even if they're not in church with Mom and Dad. Then, when young people do join their parents in worship, they pick up the similarities with chapel and have a sense of belonging.
Considering Children's Chapel
In designing Christian education, it's best to begin with a broad look at your church's programming. Here's one consideration: are children and youth in worship as well as Sunday School? Or do they attend kids' classes while their parents are in church?
In generations past, children may have learned the Lord's Prayer as part of their bedtime ritual. They probably heard Bible verses outside the church setting: as references in school, for example, or during a table grace at dinner. But this is no longer the norm, even among families who regularly attend church. Expecting children to participate fully in worship when nothing sounds familiar is a pretty tall order. (The same can be said of adults! However, many of us have been socialized to "fake it 'til we make it." And tuned-out adults attract less attention than do children who aren't engaged in worship.)
It's best for all ages -- children, youth and adults -- to participate in both worship and education every week. But this model is not always practical or even possible. Many Christian educators feel pressure to fit Sunday morning programs into one hour or face declining attendance, due to families' busy schedules.
If kids typically aren't part of Sunday worship, it's important that they learn in Sunday School what worship is like. Perhaps a "children's chapel" can begin the education hour. Chapel services are frequently a condensed version of the adults' worship service. Elements of the main service can be adapted for children. You might use this child's version of the Apostles' or Nicene Creed: "I believe in God above. I believe in Jesus' love. I believe God's Spirit, too, comes to teach us what to do. I believe that I may be kind and gentle, Lord, like thee."
Youth can be excellent worship leaders, especially those who play guitar or other instruments. Having youth assist with -- or lead -- chapel services builds connections between these different age groups. This is especially important with youth who don't feel connected to church through the main worship service. Serving in meaningful ways helps youth stay connected with their faith community rather than "disappearing" after confirmation, as so often happens.
Children can be familiarized with the order and flow of a worship service, even if they're not in church with Mom and Dad. Then, when young people do join their parents in worship, they pick up the similarities with chapel and have a sense of belonging. This experience, in turn, helps children and youth participate more fully in worship and lets them know they're included as part of a community of faith.
A great tool for helping children follow along in an Episcopal worship service is Candle Press' "What Are We Doing?" This reproducible booklet can be made available to children in the pews or in the church entryway; adults are known to pick them up as well! Kids can color in pictures as the service progresses, noting words or phrases they hear in the sermon. The companion booklet is a nice teaching tool to use with adults who are new to the Episcopal tradition. "What Are We Doing?" could also serve as an outline for any children's chapel services that incorporate communion.
Cathy Ode, M.Ed. in Counseling, has worked with families and congregations in various ways for twenty-plus years. She has served as a therapist, parenting educator, youth director and Christian education director. Cathy currently coordinates family ministries for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, CO and leads faith formation workshops for the Diocese of Colorado. In all Cathy’s work, pastoral care and caring communication have been a key.