As we gear up for another intergenerational service this weekend, I want to share some thoughts I have been having recently about what I hope you and your children get out of these services. One of my goals as DRE is to support your children in developing a strong sense of their identity as Unitarian Universalists, to think of not just what we aren’t, but what we are. This means learning about our principles and our history, but I think another critical component is having a rich and meaningful participation in the ritual practices of our church, to have ways of engaging our spirit and connecting with the sacred.
That to me is the purpose of intergenerational services. And I think knowing how to participate in these services is something that takes time to learn. That learning process may at times be challenging to our children, pushing them and us a little outside of our comfort zone, and I think that is okay. However, as with any learning process, the goal is to challenge just enough, and not too much. All of our children are at different stages of development, and capable of different levels of engaging with services. We want children (and their parents) to have a meaningful experience with intergenerational services, and that means different things to different children. I have been reaching out to many families in our church, particularly of the youngest children, to hear how intergenerational services are working for their families and what improvements can be made. For some families, intergenerational services are working out great, and for some it is extremely difficult, and many are somewhere in between. Most families felt that their children were getting something worthwhile out of intergenerational service. I want to share some thoughts that might help you get the most out of intergenerational services.
First, I know many of us, particularly those with young children, find it challenging keeping children quiet and still for the whole service. I know many of us come from childhood experiences where those were the expectations for children in church, and are mortified if our children are not behaving this way. I want to reassure you that that is not the expectation or the goal at our church. I remember the first intergenerational service my family attended, and the only seats left when we got there were front row center (this was before we had the rugs for the children to sit on). Let’s just say my kids were not still and quiet! They were hopping up, bopping around, shouting things out. Ruby did a lot of dancing. I felt like I survived the service more than attended it. And then later that day on the UU Facebook page, someone posted a note saying how much joy they got from watching Ruby dance. This helped me let go of the expectation that my children be perfect – now every time my kids are acting up in service I try to tell myself that they are helping reassure all of you that it is okay if your kids aren’t perfect! And I want to tell you how often in the last few months people have told me how much having the children’s energy and joy in the services has renewed their spirit. The church culture we are trying to create is one that is warm, energetic, and family friendly. Thank you all for contributing to that!
Another point to keep in mind is that there is no requirement that children stay for the entire service. If you feel your child is not ready for a full hour, have them do 20 minutes and then head down to the nursery or for a walk around the church together. You can work on building your children’s ability to participate in services incrementally instead of all at once. Remember to think of it as a skill they are learning, not something we already expect them to know how to do. And if you feel your preschool age age kid really is not ready to start learning this skill, we are happy to care for them in the nursery. We have adapted our intergenerational service nursery care to be more accommodating to preschool age children, letting the older kids spread out into the Potter Classroom to play with the toys there.
I would also love it if you keep giving me feedback on ways to improve intergenerational services. Like I said, I see these services as a very important part of your child’s spiritual development and it is something I really value working on. If there is a part of intergenerational services that is always particularly challenging for your children, I would love to hear about it and do some brainstorming of ways we could make it work for them. One child shared they would love if we could sing more upbeat hymns and songs in intergenerational services, and I think that is a great suggestion and one we are working to incorporate. My goal is to make it so that no part of the service is entirely above the heads of children. Ideally, each component of the service should have elements that are meaningful to people of all developmental stages.
I am very much looking forward to this Sunday’s intergenerational service, which will use a different format than usual, allowing people to move between a variety of stations and take part in different activities (very little being still and quiet!). I think our children will really enjoy it.
Director of Religious Education, UUCC