By Catherine Turnbull
Director of Children and Youth Formation
Under the aegis of Welcome, Worship, Study, Serve, we’ve been asking ourselves over the years how we can best embody our mission to impart the great stories of the Christian faith and guide children into Episcopal traditions of worship—in a comfortable bracket of time. This year, we’re making a renewed effort to combine elements of story, worship, shared inquiry, and tradition in a multi-age setting.
For our youngest parishioners, we’re calling the new program Grace Upstairs, and it starts with Welcome. At the top of the stairs, a pair of adults will greet each child individually, shake his/her hand, and ask if she/he is ready for worship.
We’re moving toward this being the doorway at which children separate from their folks, so that the whole upstairs is the children’s sacred space. From this doorway, children will enter the Toddler Room, the Big Room, or Upper Elementary areas of activity.
Worship and Study will be tailored to the three different areas. The youngest children (~1-3 yrs.) will meet in the room at the end of the hall for music, circle time, and play. In the Big Room, everyone from 3 years to 4th grade will be part of a chapel service that mirrors what the adults are doing downstairs—opening hymn, collect, etc., a Great Story, and prayers (all carefully crafted to be kid-friendly and easy to remember—something like Play & Pray on Adderall). After the worship is complete, children will be able to choose two or three forms of response. Examples of response are: retelling the stories and working with the story materials; some form of art response; and a station whose focus is movement and action.
Everyone will return to the service at the Eucharist.
Service, apart from the children’s participation in Joyful Noise, the healing team, acolyting, etc. will include a regular relationship with organizations like Giving Back to Africa and Aqua Clara, which have direct connections to the Grace community.
Fifth- and sixth-graders (Upper Elementary) will be in a category of their own this year. They will have their own curriculum and their own classroom, perhaps downstairs—almost like a youth group—and they, too, will come back to the Sanctuary at the Eucharist.
For “older” youth, it’s been our tradition to form a group in middle school and keep it together until a pilgrimage trip is accomplished when everyone is in high school. It’s time to change this model and to create two discrete groups where one grade at a time enters and later moves up: seventh- and eighth-graders together in a middle school group, and ninth- through twelfth-graders in a high school group. We are currently choosing new curricula for each group and looking for one that will free us to refocus the trips we take and lessen the burden of fundraising on the kids and their leaders. In addition, we’re developing plans that include family ministry, philanthropy, oral history, retreats, liturgy-creation, and mission. I’m grateful to God that we already have two people committed to being youth group leaders: Amy Richards (middle school), and Renee Wegman (high school). Both Amy and Renee bring positive, compassionate energy to their time with young people. We do hope and expect to have partners for them as the fall begins.
I’m very excited about the direction we’re going and look forward to all of these projects unfolding. Grace Upstairs will begin on Sunday, September 8; it will probably take an additional week or two to organize the youth groups and we will certainly be in touch about that.
All of Grace Church’s programs for its young members are blessed by steady support. Every year, I gleefully rely on close to two dozen imaginative and wise volunteers. For this, and for the support of the congregation, I remain grateful beyond words.