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Helping Children Worship

From St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church, Palos Hills, IL

Dear St. Luke Family,
We are on a quest to train our children to love the Lord's Day! We want them to love the Divine Liturgy, to actively engage in it, and to understand it. We want our children to love the Church, and we desire to prepare them for a lifetime of worship and service in the Orthodox Church. We realize that the goal of training children to worship God falls largely on the shoulders of parents. To assist you in helping your children learn to worship, the Church School has put together this booklet packed with practical tips. We hope this booklet will be a great source of encouragement and help for you. This is just a resource for your use. None of us are "super-parents," and we all understand the challenge parents face in teaching their children to worship God. For most of us, just getting the family to church feels like a huge victory! Most of the information found in this booklet is information we have adapted from many different sources. We consider this material to be a work in progress, and we would love your input and suggestions for making it more helpful for parents.

As you join our quest to train your children to love the Liturgy and joyfully engage in corporate worship, begin by creating a culture in your home that Sunday is a day of joy and celebration. Try to create special Sunday traditions and activities that your children will look forward to all week long. Encourage a sense of excitement that Sunday is coming!

Above all, pray for your children to grow in their love for Christ and His Church. No amount of practical advice can substitute for the work of God's Spirit in the lives of your children. There is no magic formula for producing children who passionately worship the Lord. God has called us to train our children and set a godly example before them, but at the end of the day we must all lay our children at the foot of the cross and call upon our gracious God to be true to His promises and finish the work He has begun in the hearts of our children.

Engaging in Worship

Encourage your children to participate in the service as much as possible. Encourage them to stand, pray, kneel and sing responses with the rest of the congregation. Allow children to place money in the offering plate and pass it down the row. Let them hold the Children's Liturgy book with you.
• Make sure children can see what's going on, especially during the Great Entrance and the Anaphora (prayer of Consecration).
• Feel free to explain what is going on during the service: "Now we are praying... going to sing... going to receive Holy Communion."
• Children's Liturgy Books are available in the back of the church. Help them follow the pages.
• When your child asks a question, answer it briefly. This is far less disturbing than saying "shhh" (or ignoring him or her) and far more welcoming! Remember that a smile of encouragement accomplishes more than all the "shushing" in the world. If your children wiggle, don't be upset—adults wiggle too!
• Babies love to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord." (Psalm 100). If, however, their crying disrupts those who are trying to worship, take the babies to the narthex until they settle down. Please be especially respectful during the priest's sermon.

Preparing for Worship

During the Week
• Help your children feel more connected to what is going on during the worship service by teaching them what we do during the service. Explain the physical actions (when to stand, sit, bow, kneel, cross themselves, shake hands during the peace greeting.) Encourage them to participate in the corporate responses (litanies, Nicene Creed, Lord's Prayer). Teach them the elements of worship:
• Call to Worship, Prayer and Hymns of Praise: "Blessed is the Kingdom"
Worship begins with the prayer to the Holy Spirit and the ringing of bells. God calls upon us to worship him, and in response we pray and sing hymns throughout the service.
• Litany: "In peace let us pray to the Lord."
We ask for God's presence and blessings upon ourselves and the whole world.
• Scripture Reading: "Illumine our hearts"
During the service, we speak to God in prayer, and God speaks to us as the Scripture is read. The Holy Scriptures teach us how we should live.
• Sermon: "Open my lips"
The sermon explains the meaning and application of a specific portion of God's Word.
• Profession of Faith: "I Believe"
We recite a statement of belief together. The Creed lists essentials of the Orthodox Faith that has been passed down through the Apostolic Fathers.
• Special Hymns: "An offering of peace, a sacrifice of praise"
During the service, our choir sings special hymns and helps us express our offering and sacrifice of praise to God.
• Holy Communion: "Unto the healing of soul and body"
This is when we fulfill the New Covenant by receiving Jesus Christ our Savior into our hearts, souls and bodies.
• Benediction: "Let us depart in peace"
God, through the Priest, pronounces his blessing upon us as we prepare to live our lives by proclaiming His Gospel in the way we live.

Saturday Evening
Help your children prepare for worship by ensuring their physical needs are met. Like all of us, children function best when they are well-fed and get a good night's sleep. Think about doing as much preparation as possible (like laying out your children's clothes). Advanced planning can lessen the inevitable stress of Sunday mornings and might even prevent your arriving at church frazzled and irritated. Then pray the Pre-Communion prayers together as a family.

By St. John of Damascus
O Lord, Master, Jesus Christ our God, You alone have authority to forgive sins because You are good and the lover of mankind. Forgive all my transgressions committed knowingly or unknowingly, and grant that I may partake, without condemnation, of Your divine, glorious, pure and life-creating Mysteries. May this communion not be for condemnation, or for the increase of sin, but for cleansing, sanctification and to obtain life in the kingdom, which is to come. Let this Eucharist be a defense and help against those who fight against me, to the elimination of my many iniquities. For You are the God of mercy and compassion and the lover of mankind and to You is due all glory, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Sunday Morning

  • Help your children prepare their hearts and minds for worship by encouraging a positive, joyful, and excited attitude from the moment they wake up. Create a spirit of joyful expectation to be in God's house. Consider singing a song with them during the car ride to church to help their minds focus on God's Word. Consider clearly articulating your expectations to your children before church. You may also want to offer rewards for their good attention and participation.
  • Try to arrive early enough for your children to use the restroom. Then, except for emergencies, encourage them to remain in the church nave for worship. Sit together as a family. Consider letting your children decide where you will sit. If you have a large family, invite single adults to sit with you. This will emphasize that all believers are in the Lord's family. It will also allow singles to fulfill their vows to assist in the nurture of the children by helping one of your children participate in the Divine Liturgy.
  • Pray for your own attitude and approach to worship, because children will instinctively do what you do. Adults who model heart-felt sincerity and joy in worship will demonstrate to children the value of worship.

Following Worship

  • While it is still fresh in their minds, have your children reflect on the sermon, prayers, and other parts of the service with questions appropriate to their level of understanding.
  • Praise your children's attempts to listen to the sermon and to participate in other parts of the worship service.
  • Give children opportunities to practice sitting quietly and still at home. Families that train their children at home are usually quite successful with their children during the worship services.
  • Children who have musical talent and can sing should let our Choir Director Paulette Velasquez know of their interests!
  • Think about purchasing the Divine Liturgy on CD to help children learn well-known liturgical hymns and spiritual songs. It is especially effective when you find CD's with children singing.
  • Talk about tithing so children can develop a generous attitude about giving praise, time, goods and blessings to God.

Ideas for the Congregation

  • Recognize your roles as models for children in worship. Adults who demonstrate a passion for worshipping God can't help but reinforce to children the importance of worship.
  • Get to know the children and their families by name.
  • Extend a smile and spirit of welcome to families of small ones.
  • Shake hands with children, bend down to their eye level, and tell them you are glad they are there.
  • If you observe a family "on overload". Help them out by sitting with them or inviting one of their children to sit with you.
  • Make sure children can see what is going on.
  • Pass the offering place to children, not past children.
  • Offer a helping hand if you see that a family might need assistance.
  • Praise children for good behavior during worship.

Children in our church are full members of the body of Christ. We do not have a special children's service, because we realize that our experience of the church is not merely rational. Even if a child cannot yet understand all that is happening, he can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch for himself, and experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. We must not deprive our children of this experience; we must prepare them to appreciate it, to look forward to it, and to participate in it by prayer and in as many other ways as possible. Children should prepare for and look forward to receiving Holy Communion from the earliest possible age.

Children who suffer from boredom in church overcome it more easily if they are not afraid to talk about it. It can be mentioned as a temptation which affects adults too. (Children see them looking at their watches or starting to gossip...) One can also encourage a child to tell Christ about his own problems and joys during a service if he is tired of following, and even talk to Christ about his boredom and ask God to help him appreciate the service. (When we "cannot pray" we should tell God first of all, because it may be a sign of spiritual sickness.) Young children may need to be taken out for a while or given something to look at or hold, or have explained to them what is happening, or be shown something in the church. They may be brought for only part of a long service.

When we consider the question of church attendance and Holy Communion, and prayers at home, we must have in mind not only the immediate result, but also a long term view: what is the best preparation for this child to live a Christian life in this world? What will sow in the child a spiritually healthy attitude to Christ, to the Church, to the Sacraments? What will help him to preserve to adulthood the desire to know Christ and have communion with Him? (Taken from Children in the Church Today by Sister Magdalen)

People who make comments about the behavior of children have little understanding of what the Church is about or Christ's acceptance and welcome of little children. Don't let bad days discourage you. Evaluate what has happened. If necessary, change expectations. Then try again. You are not alone, so seek advice from other parents.