These kids are learning the Lutheran liturgy in a special way
University Lutheran Church of Hope uses unique worship visual aids.
Take the traditional Lu-theran order of worship; blend with study and imagination, and then add colored symbols and self-stick Velcro. That’s the recipe for the “Follow-Along Liturgy Guide for Holy Communion” now in use by youngsters at University Lutheran Church of Hope (ELCA), southeast Minneapolis.
“Going to church can be a negative experience for children when they don’t understand what’s happening,” says Rebecca Rice Tetlie, who created the guide. “As parents, that’s the last thing we want. Parents can continue bringing a bag of tricks and diversions to keep kids occupied, or they can help kids see what’s going on. Maybe kids sometimes rebel at the notion of sitting in church because the liturgy is a mystery to them.
“We made large, poster-size symbols in yellow, blue, green and red that match the symbols in their guide. For the kids it’s like cracking a code when they begin to process worship in a meaningful way, seeing that it has a pattern and a purpose. For parents, the guide is a tool. It gives them a reference point for talking with their children about church.”
Rebecca is education commissioner at University Lutheran Church of Hope (ULCH), a volunteer position. She has taught Sunday school and is the mother of three youngsters. “My four-year-old loves the guide,” Rebecca says. “I tell my fourth-grader, ‘You have a choice. You can follow the bulletin or use the guide.’ We see kids up through sixth grade who are not proficient readers using it. Even adults can learn more appreciation for the liturgy.”
Designing and producing the guide took about one year, including study and preparation. Rebecca explains, “I did a lot of reading to understand more about the early Christian roots for the pattern of worship. Why do we hang onto this liturgy? There has to be treasure in it. We want our children to gain a sense of wonder and love for the God we worship.
“I wanted to know why specific elements are included and the reason for keeping them in a certain order. For example, why does the passing of peace come before the offering? The answer is that God wants us to make peace with our brothers and sisters before we bring offerings to God.”
Each of the guides is set into a green file folder. Velcro squares at the lower margin hold colored icons that match large ones posted in church. As worship proceeds, children move the squares into places waiting for them, matching the four parts of the service: yellow for Gathering; blue for the Word; green for the Meal; and red for Sending. The icons come from an Augsburg Fortress CD, “Graphics for Worship,” and are in a style familiar from Lutheran Book of Worship.
Rebecca wrote short sentences that children can understand, to explain each step of worship. A more comprehensive explanation on the back of the guide helps parents provide context and of-fers more complete explanations for older children as they move into abstract thinking. Bill Beckstrand, ULCH minister of music at the time, made suggestions along the way and helped explain the guides to the congregation in a Sunday forum series in October 2001.
Beckstrand offered the first forum, in which ULCH members were invited to “discover the ancient roots of liturgy and its design to draw us closer to our God, the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.” The following week, forum was combined with Sunday school in an intergenerational family event. While the children were learning to sing the worship responses, parents were hearing suggestions for meaningfully engaging children in worship.
ULCH member Nan Knutsen led the parent workshops. “We talked about expectations for children in worship and how they change at different ages and stages,” Nan says. “At what age do we put away the crayons and expect the children to pay attention to worship? At what age do children realize that their behavior affects other people’s worship experience?”
Says Rebecca, “We have the guides available on the second Sunday of each month. This makes them a little more special, and the kids are asking when they can use them. I’ve asked the ushers to hand them out to parents and young children through third grade, but others may ask for them.”
To involve the congregation, a note in the ULCH Sunday bulletin explains the guides and makes the request, “Please help children around you follow our place in the service by pointing out the symbols and events as they change in the front of the sanctuary.”
Response has been warmly positive. As Rebecca tells it, “One of our mothers of active boys said to me, ‘Thank you so much. This is one of the first times my kids have sat still in church!’”