It is Sunday morning. Our worship service is three-quarters of the way done. It is time for our weekly celebration of Holy Communion, the sacred meal of this community of faith. The children have come from their Sunday School time to join the rest of the church family as we gather in a semi-circle around the altar in the sanctuary. I raise up the bread and wine that have been blessed. “These are the gifts of God for the people of God, take them…with thanksgiving.”
Moving from person to person, I come to Juliet who is three years old and bend down to her level. She has made a little cup with her hands ‘like a manger for the baby.’
“Juliet,” I say, “this is the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.” She looks into my eyes, listening very seriously.
“Amen,” she whispers, then skips back to the children’s corner to draw a picture, happy, fed.
I move on around to the young woman and baby who are visiting for the first time. I place my hand on the baby’s head. “The blessing of the God of Love be upon a very special child of God.” A wave of emotion passes over the mother’s face, it is tender, it is full of hope, it comes from a world where blessings are few and far between, they are gifts and not taken for granted.
The final hymn is playing. Emanuel is standing at the ready. He is six and has been putting out the altar candles for at least three years. We all remember when he would stand on tiptoe, stretching to snuff the flame out, and then jump off the altar steps in a flying leap (some of us grown-ups shaking our heads). We watch him now while we sing. He moves quietly from candle to candle, comfortable, competent. He finishes and facing the cross makes a slow, deep bow.
The children hover around the cookies and juice after church. Gracie, also six, goes around hugging people and taking pictures with her dad’s cellphone. She brings me a brownie and tells me she helped set up for coffee hour. This Sunday morning Gracie is learning the beautiful ministry of hospitality. She is learning in this place to care for others; learning that as part of God’s family all are welcome, that we work together and that everyone has gifts to share.
The community of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church actively welcomes and integrates children and their families into our worship and life together. We offer a weekly Sunday School led by a caring team of teachers. Through biblical stories, art, music and ‘holy play’ we help our children to experience and know a loving God who welcomes and cares for all; we believe that children have innate spiritual lives that need to be nurtured; that they are concerned about the big questions and search to make meaning of life; that they need safe space and supportive adults who take those questions seriously and will help them make sense of what is often a confusing world. We encourage and help them to grow in the sacramental life of our community through baptism, holy communion, and even at times in our healing ministry. They often join us in our social outreach efforts, walking the CROP Walk and serving neighborhood guests at our Bread for Life breakfast. They know they are members of a large caring family called St. Augustine’s Church and that they are valued for who they are.
Starting on Sunday, September 8th, we will be using a new curriculum in our Sunday School. The Episcopal Children’s Curriculum is designed in age-appropriate stages to introduce children to the foundational stories of the Old and New Testaments; to the person and ministry of Jesus; to the Sacraments; and to life in the community of the Church family. As a congregation, we are committed to fostering a safe and caring space for children to grow and learn as children of God.
By: Rev. Martha Clark
Priest-in-Charge, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, SW