Taking time to prepare to cross the threshold into church with intention and readiness helps people of all ages worship more deeply.
The world outside us is noisy and busy. Sometimes the world inside us is noisy and busy, too. When we come into church we need to take time to slow down. To quiet down. To get ready to come close to the Mystery of God. In silence. And stillness. And stories. And prayers.
Objects & Practices for Getting Ready
At St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM, The Rev. Sylvia Miller-Mutia created an Altar of Preparation in order to support children (and adults) in “getting ready” to find stillness and to listen to God in worship.
This Altar of Preparation, located at the back of the worship space, offers a variety of special objects and practices to help individuals and families get ready to pay attention and find God in the church and in their hearts. Here are five of the objects:
Icon – An icon is like a window we look through to see God. Greet the icon with a gentle touch or holy kiss.
Water – The water reminds us of creation. All living things need water to live and grow. The water reminds us of washing. Water makes everything clean and new. Water reminds us of baptism. In Baptism we remember God saying, “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” Gently touch the water with your fingertips. Then gently touch your head, your heart, your left and right shoulders with the water, making a sign of the cross. Remember that God is here right now. God is within you and around you. In your head and in your heart. On your left and on your right.
Oil– The fragrant oil reminds us of the Holy Oil used to anoint prophets, priests, and kings in ancient times. The fragrant oil reminds us of the Holy Oil priests still use to anoint people for baptism and for healing. The fragrant oil reminds us of the frankincense and myrrh the mysterious magi brought as gifts for the Baby Jesus: Frankincense for God; Myrrh for Humanity. Place one drop of oil in the palm of your hand, and rub your hands together until it is warm. Bring your hands to your face and take three deep, slow breaths allowing the fragrance to fill you. COVID tip-you can put a drop of essential oil on your mask, and the “cloud of incense” will follow you wherever you go!
Colors of the Church Year – The colored jewels remind us of the special colors that mark each day and season in the circle of the church year. Hold a jewel in the palm of your hand. How does the color make you feel? What does this color make you think of? Where else can you see this color? In the church? In the world? Why do you think this is the color for today?
Candles – The candles remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. The candles remind us that God’s Word is a light for our path. The candles remind us that Jesus says “YOU are the light of the world.” Light a candle. Watch the light. Say a prayer.
Teaching Adults How to Help Children Get Ready
While some adults have personal practices that help them prepare for worship, such as crossing themselves with Holy Water or kneeling for a time of prayer before worship begins, they might not have thought about how to help children get ready for worship. Consider offering a special time for children and parents/caregivers to learn and practice getting ready for worship together.
Getting Ready for Worship Session Outline
This outline was created by Sarah Bentley Allred.
Supplies & Materials
- If using, have everything for the Altar of Preparation ready.
- If using, have materials for The Ark & The Tent Godly Play story ready (See video of story here.).
- If using, have images of different parts of worship ready. They can be clip art, photos, or cards from Godly Play resources.
- Name tags, if people don’t all know each other.
Gathering & Welcome
- As families arrive, have one leader meet them at the door and invite them to sit on the floor in a circle. Have a second leader sitting on the floor, ready to greet folks as they arrive and ask how they are doing.
- Open in Prayer or Song.
- If your congregation is familiar with Godly Play, you might tell the story of The Ark & The Tent which talks about what the people of God did to get ready to come close to the Ark.
Why Do We Worship?
- Explain that you are gathered to talk together about how to get ready for worship, but before you think about how to get ready, it’s important to know why we worship.
- I wonder why we get together to worship or I wonder why worship matters.
- Give some space for wondering. You might remind folks there can be more than one answer. Feel free to add your own understanding of why we worship.
- Note the (hopefully) general agreement that worship is important.
Why Do We Need To Get Ready?
- I wonder how you treat things that are important.
- Feel free to add your own understanding. For example, I try to treat important things with a lot of respect.
- Explain: Worship is so important, that we want to take the time we need to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. We need to be ready.
How Do We Get Ready?
- I wonder what might help you to get ready to come close to something as important as worship.
- Feel free to add your own ideas (wiggling wiggles out, deep breath, crossing through a threshold, going to the bathroom, singing a calming song, having a drink of water)
- Tell adults: Having a pre-worship routine can be really helpful. Figure out something that works for your family.
Practice Getting Ready
- Practice some of the ideas the group came up with. For example, have everyone wiggle, take a deep breath, sing a simple song like “be still and know that I am God,” do a brief body prayer, etc.
- If using the Altar of Preparation, take the whole group to the fully set up altar. Talk about each object and allow everyone to try the different practices. Then, return to your circle.
Expectations of Worship Behavior
- Explain: In worship, there are times to move and times to be still. There are times to be quiet and times to be loud.
- Lay out some pictures of different parts of the worship service (singing, Communion, Lord’s Prayer, sermon, etc.)
- I wonder when is a time to be quiet. I wonder when is a time to be loud. I wonder when is a time to be still. I wonder when is a time to move.
- Tell adults: During the service, you can help remind children when it is time to be quiet or loud, time to move or time to be still.
- Make sure to note that sometimes we need to leave and get ready again.
- I wonder what you could do if you start feeling not ready while we are in worship.
- Tell adults: It is totally fine to leave church and return.
- Close in Prayer or Song
Whispering in Church – A fantastic article on how adults can whisper in church to help children learn what is happening in the service.
Children’s Behavior in Worship – A general guide for what behavior adults can expect from children of different ages during worship.
A version of this article first appeared on mothersylvia.com. You can read the original article here.