Cookie Church is a child-centered-but-not-just-for-kids, mostly child-led evening liturgy…We want to invite kids deeper into our shared worship by discovering together their capacity for liturgical leadership in a rage of tasks and roles.
Worship is (Joyful) Work
I have spent a lot of time learning about how Episcopal churches incorporate kids in worship. One of the touchstones I’ve heard again and again is that kids need jobs.
Kids need jobs, and the typical default of acolyting isn’t for everyone. There is dignity in being able to choose a job you want, a job that fits your capacities and interests. We let adults opt into the ministries they enjoy; why don’t more churches do the same for children and youth?
St. Dunstan’s is enthusiastically welcoming of children, but our Sunday worship doesn’t have a lot of jobs for kids. We have a lively acolyte corps and a children’s musical ensemble, and we have a few kids who serve as lectors, but overwhelmingly it’s adults who plan, prepare, and lead our worship. The first thing we needed was a space to explore what kids could do, and liked to do, in liturgy. Thus was born “Cookie Church.”
Cookie Church is a child-centered-but-not-just-for-kids, mostly child-led evening liturgy. Its purpose is not to divert kids from Sunday morning worship, the worship of the whole assembly. Instead, we want to invite kids deeper into our shared worship by discovering together their capacity for liturgical leadership in a range of tasks and roles. (I’m indebted to the Rev. Sylvia Mutia-Miller for this wisdom.) While the shortened evening worship is a helpful alternative for some whose schedules make Sunday morning difficult, most of our participants also come on Sunday mornings.
Cookie Church is:
- Exactly one hour long
- Includes paperless song
- a short reading from Scripture
- a storybook
- interactive prayer
- a simple Eucharist
- snack time with cookies
- …and ends with nighttime prayers.
Before the service, we lay out laminated slips naming the jobs on a table: Leader, Bell Ringer, Bread Minister, Lector, and more. The jobs represent a range of responsibility and skill. A suggested age range is included on each card. As they arrive, kids immediately start choosing jobs, recruiting friends, and urging newcomers to try something.
I’m a firm believer in experimentation and feedback, so we started Cookie Church with a five-week run on Sunday nights in Lent. I asked for feedback at the end of worship every week, and we made tweaks as we went along. Some tweaks were small, like switching in an easier song or getting rid of a candle that was too hard to light; some were larger – after just a couple of weeks I realized we had older kids who were ready to help lead worship, so I split the Presider voice in our worship script into Presider and Leader, and made the Leader role open to anyone who can read out loud.
After Easter, we held a feedback session to ask people who’d participated, What did you like? And this is what we heard, overwhelmingly, from the kids: We liked the jobs!
Kids liked being invited into a variety of roles, leading or supporting the group’s worship. They liked being able to choose their role, based on their gifts and how they felt on a given evening. Even though this had been one of the core intentions of Cookie Church, I was surprised and delighted by how well it worked.
Up Next for Cookie Church
What’s next for Cookie Church? We’re doing another five-week run in July – and will likely try it as a regular offering in the fall. But we’re also already beginning to explore how Cookie Church can feed our Sunday corporate worship. Over the summer, we’re trying out a few opt-in roles on Sundays, such as participating in our extended Gospel procession, leading a paperless song, or assisting the Altar Guild with cleanup after church. We’re still only a few weeks in, but I can already see the eagerness and seriousness with which kids are claiming and fulfilling these roles – and when kids are leading, other kids pay attention. We’ll continue to experiment, reflect, and wonder together – at Cookie Church and beyond!
The Rev. Miranda Hassett is the rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Madison, WI. She lives in Madison with her family. She is passionate about intergenerational worship, and makes jewelry in her spare time.