I’ve been a part of the Episcopal church for about five years. Coming from a non-denominational background, I found the Eucharist liturgy rich, beautiful… and bewildering. As I stepped into the role of children’s director at St. Luke’s, I was so curious about the way our kids were receiving the communion liturgy. Did they understand it, or was it washing over them like background music? How might they feel like participants, owning a faith of their own and occupying their individual seats at our spiritual meal? I asked my own questions about the meaning and function of each part of the liturgy and found the passionate instruction of our priest, the Rev. Laurel Matthewson, to be a really wonderful ‘audio guide in a museum’–a true deepening of my experience of coming to the table. I really wanted to get that ‘audio guide’ into our kids’ ears.
So, Rev. Laurel and I decided to create the children’s own communion liturgy. We would have them follow the same structure, with much of the same language- simplified and made visual and interactive. We color-coded the parts of the liturgy, laminated reader cards, and posted the liturgy in our children’s area. On St. Luke’s recent delegation trip to East Africa, we found colorful fabric for each season’s table and a beautiful wood-carved chalice.
For the past year of Sundays at St. Luke’s, the children have led their own “Great Thanksgiving” downstairs, danced with the angels during the Sanctus, and moved their hands in the graceful rhythms of American Sign Language while singing the Lord’s Prayer. Then we headed up to the sanctuary to offer our gifts at the altar and receive the bread and wine at the altar rail with our families and the larger church body.
The response has been lovely. Multiple children have asked to be baptized, desiring to receive communion. Sometimes they recite Jesus’ Words of Institution with me as they come up in our Godly Play stories. They’ve been making connections–seeing Jesus’ Last Supper referenced at the table in Emmaus, recognizing the similarities of the Upper Room and our church altar. We’ve had lots of wiggles, and plenty of days when the chaos seems to reign over the sweetness, but our young congregation can testify to the graciousness of God’s work in our consistent practice.
For Good Shepherd Sunday, we decided to let the kids teach us what they know. After all, I have learned so much alongside our kids this year; surely, it could be a rich teaching for all ages.
Where the sermon would be, we moved our congregation into six intergenerational Sacred Story circles, scattered around our church building. All six groups simultaneously told the Godly Play story, “The Good Shepherd and World Communion.” (Shout out to my fellow children’s directors who let me borrow their story materials!) We added a second part to the story: “Now that we’re at the table of the Good Shepherd, what do we do here? How do we come close to the Good Shepherd at his table?” Here, in the style of “The Circle of the Eucharist”, we taught the why and how of the communion liturgy in ten main parts, from The Offertory to The Invitation.
The children and adults did their wondering together, which is a wonderful exercise in role reversal. In this space of curiosity, the children really are the leaders, and I often hear from adults about the ways the children helped them reflect on the story in meaningful ways. Then we all moved back into the service.
The children took turns reading their liturgy cards from the lectern, and holding posters they drew, reminding our congregation of each of our ten liturgical parts. They took breaks for Rev. Laurel to offer prayers and read the words of Institution and Epiclesis. They came together on the altar steps to share with us their songs and movement for The Sanctus and The Lord’s Prayer. The congregation robustly read their responses and even called out some things they were thankful for during the “things we name aloud or to you in our hearts.”
All in all, it was a memorable day at St Luke’s and one that I pray will stick with our church as we come to the table again on Sunday, and the Sundays after that. And as our children are naturally inclined to do (with the breath and help of the Holy Spirit), we see them lead us into more life in our rituals and depth in our faith experience. All so we might all meet Christ at his table and dance with the angels for a moment here on Earth, our ages irrelevant, our souls exultant.
If you would like to learn more about how to incorporate children’s teaching into your Sunday liturgy, please feel free to reach out to Amy Reams here.
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One reply to “Developing a Communion Liturgy for Children”
This is great Amy!
The calling you have for the children of St.Lukes is really beautiful.
I Love you and may God continue to use you to change and inspire the spirit in each child under your care.