UnConference: UnCo Kids and Kids In Church

My friend Megan Dosher tweeted a few days before I was scheduled to leave for UnCo11 that she had just volunteered to be in charge of UnCo Kids, but she was on the road. Could anyone help by bringing some supplies? A few of us jumped on it and I began packing a bag of random stuff.

“I could help you, if you need me to,” I told her. It seemed a shame to not be willing to share the ministry God has called me to while I was at UnCo11. “Sure!” was her reply.

I was thrilled when I arrived to see that the UnCo Kids room was right next to the main worship/gathering space. I was really excited when it became clear that it would be possible to hear the children in their room from our worship space. I was giddy when, during one of the songs, a five year old boy raced down the center aisle and began joyfully dancing around the front. He jumped and spun and posed and everyone sang and cheered and loved him being there. His little sister joined him for a moment.  They disappeared briefly, back down the center aisle, but the boy reappeared shortly. This time, he was joined by some adults, who were pulled in to dance and spin with him. It was an awesome, joy-filled way to end worship–and even those of us who were not spinning were clapping and laughing and cheering where we were.

When I think about children in worship, that’s what I imagine–a space where a child feels comfortable enough to race to the front and dance.

Of course, I’ve learned that I think more uniquely about this. I am rather permissive when it comes to kids–I honestly don’t mind when they laugh and cry and scream and wiggle and whisper too loudly and wander around during church. I actually kind of enjoy their kid-ness and the honesty they bring to worship. Plus, I don’t think worship has to be solemn or quiet or still. I get it–kids are distracting. I also am sympathetic to parents who need a break from children and appreciate being able to send their children to Kids’ Church–or wherever. I’m honestly willing to figure out how to best deal with individual situations–and I’ve rescued a parent or two when a child was having trouble in worship by taking that child on a walk around the building or to a nearby space to color or draw or play a game.

But worship without children feels incomplete to me.

On Saturday morning, I went to my first UnCo Kids session. Megan was offering UnCo Kids during the breakout sessions, so the children could have their own space. Her plan was to make it “UnConferency.” She hadn’t really planned a lot a head of time and was just now really getting a good look at the supplies everyone was bringing. She reminded me that many churches have only small numbers of children and they are often diverse in age–like our kids at UnCo. Often at churches, people who work with children learn to go with the flow and deal with these issues.

When I entered the room, everyone was sitting in a circle on the floor. “We’re telling the story of how we got to UnCo,” Megan explained.

“I rode on an airplane and drove in a car and crossed a big bridge!” one of the boys exclaimed.

“I crossed that bridge!” another child affirmed. “It was big!”

“Mrs. Becky, where did you come from?” Megan asked.

“I drove here from Kentucky,” I explained. “Have any of you ever been to Kentucky before?”

“No!” was the unanimous response.

“No,” three year-old Ellie echoed.

“Well, maybe you’ll visit Kentucky some day,” I suggested.

“I’m never going to go to Kentucky,” Ellie assured me. “I’m never going to Kentucky because it’s not in Texas.”

Because not many adults had signed up to help Megan, I ended up helping her quite a bit. I didn’t really mind, because for me the good conversations were happening in smaller groups in unplanned moments. I did manage to sit in on a couple of sessions that really mattered to me and I enjoyed quizzing people about the sessions they attended.

Since I wasn’t in charge of the children, I was able to do a lot of observing and thinking and considering about the way children’s ministry does happen and could happen. I enjoyed wandering with the group and having conversations with each child and dealing with each one’s unique needs and ideas.

A really fun moment came on Tuesday afternoon when Megan determined that since we weren’t seeing so many adults come to the UnCo Kids room, we were going to go find some. We began to wander the hallways, looking for adults not in sessions. We hadn’t made it far when we found three women sitting in the hallway. We asked Erin to tell us a story–any story she wanted. Erin told us about how she came to UnCo11. After hearing Erin’s story, we went down the hall further and found Meredith, who read us some stuff from a Shel Silverstein book we were carrying to take the pressure off adults who weren’t quick with stories. While Meredith read, the kids bounced around a bit, but mostly listened. A few moments later, we found Christopher, who sat down at a table with us and read us some more from “A Light In The Attic.”

I loved it. I’m definitely going to do this at my church on a regular basis from now on.

I believe that intergenerational ministry is necessary in churches. We live in a time when we want to always separate children and youth and adults (and sometimes seniors). Those generational ministries are important, but when children connect with adults, when adults know the names of their young brothers and sisters–community happens. A lot of church leaders wring their hands about teenagers and young adults leaving the church. I believe that when these young adults are connected to a community because they have meaningful relationships and feel supported by their church, this happens less often. I loved it that at UnCo, there were 9 children and they were very present in the community.

During closing worship, Josh and Christie Hale, two UMC ministers from Texas (and the parents of young Ben, Ellie and Sam), served Communion. They served it with baby Sam passed back and forth between them and Ben and Ellie dancing around, grabbing their hands, hugging their legs, giggling and chattering. As the words of institution were spoken, Ben and Ellie recited them too, their small voices rising. “What’s in there?” Ellie asked her mom, standing on her tippy toes, trying to see inside the chalice. “The same thing that’s always in there,” Christie replied. “Can Jesus finish?” “Okay!” Ellie decided.

As the elements were served, I stepped forward to receive the bread. Five year-old Ben was standing in front of his father, who was breaking the bread. He reached up and took a piece of bread from his dad and handed it to me. I loved that. I loved that these children felt so welcome and free, even during what is often a solemn occasion.

I’m left with all kinds of questions about how do we do intergenerational ministry consistently and well and how do we welcome children in worship in a way that is also welcoming to ALL worshipers?

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them. For it is to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.” Mt 19:14

I’ll continue to do some thinking and exploring about this. Some of us are planning to offer an online space to help each other figure this out. While we’re building that, we have a Facebook page for ideas, questions and articles. If you’re interested in these topics–join us!

2 thoughts on “UnConference: UnCo Kids and Kids In Church”

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