We can only testify to what we have seen. In the Pray-Ground at St. Paul’s Cathedral, I have seen curiosity on children’s faces as the Gospel party processes to the center of the Nave. I have seen kids show others, quite matter-of-factly, how the table is set at the Eucharist. I have seen the most considerable awe and subsequent imitation of the thurifer’s mighty swing during the Eucharistic sentences. I have learned so much about the profound spirituality of children because I have seen it.
The Pray-Ground is a new space at St. Paul’s Cathedral for children and their families to engage with our liturgy and worship God in their own unique, God-given way. Understanding that children are more engaged when they can see what is going on, the Pray-Ground is located in the front-left corner of the Nave. The Pray-Ground is filled with foam mats covered by a large plush rug, storage ottomans, an activities table, a caddy of art supplies, Play-Doh, Books of Common Prayer and children’s service bulletins, and– my favorite–the Wee Believers ™ My Pop Out 14 Piece Children’s Mass Activity.
The inspiration for the Pray-Ground came from the desire to make our children’s formation more accessible to kids who attend our Spanish Misa at 1 0’clock, as both Godly Play and Youth Group previously occurred during the 10:30 service. We moved all offerings to 12:00-12:45, and 10:30 attendees remain for the duration of the service with their parents, instead of coming in at the Passing of the Peace. This idea was made possible through a Diocesan Fearless Love Grant.
Fearless Love is what I prayed for continuously for the six months I spent developing the Pray-Ground. The idea was as exciting as it was terrifying. What if families hated it? What if it looked awful? What about the acoustics in the Cathedral? What do I know about child development, anyway? Amidst these doubts, God answered my prayers for courage and trust. Parents, ministry leaders, Cathedral staff, and our Chapter supported me. We all had our concerns, but God granted us the courage as a community to transform our space to live into our mission to “Love Christ. Serve Others. Welcome all”.
Children in worship is a matter of equality. If we insert any demographic into the phrase “we don’t have ____ here because the way they inherently exist detracts from our worship experience and is too distracting” or “we have a separate room or glass enclosure for them to participate in what we are doing”, it would be an outrage, and righteously so!
Kids know how to read a room. Often kids feel like Church is some adult thing. Children are not expected to participate in church or care about it, so they don’t. Kids want to fully participate in worship; it’s just they haven’t been explicitly invited, or they don’t know how to worship. Children absorb far more than we realize, and whereas children may not understand everything, we can demonstrate that our worship spaces are places where they are expected, welcomed, and loved.
None of this can be prescriptive; not every parish has the budget or the space to create a Pray-Ground or have a separate hour for Godly Play or Youth Group. However, including children in worship can manifest in a variety of ways. For example, I escort the kids to the center aisle to get an even better view of the Eucharistic sentences. I also made custom children’s bulletins, but companies like Illustrated Ministry sell lectionary-based ones. I invite you all to discern what steps your parish may take to welcome children into corporate worship
Ultimately, I can only testify to what I have seen. Above all else, I see how the Pray-Ground is a testament to the merit of taking risks and pursuing Jesus’ call to bring children to him.
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