This morning I shall mostly be preparing an all age service for Sunday morning. It is on the theme of prayer and today I am seeking to put some flesh on the bones of the planning session I had yesterday with my colleague, Susan. I am reminded of the prayer I used to pray every night as a child:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child
Pity my simplicity and teach me Lord to come to Thee.
Perhaps we should include that in the service…
I find that people are rarely ambivalent about all age services. They seem to polarise people’s opinions. Some love the energy and unpredictability of the engagement with all ages of people in the service while others shudder at the thought of being asked to do some actions or be silly. Some look forward to us truly being a church family together, worshipping God, while others find that wriggly people distract them from their desire to focus on God. Some enjoy the opportunity to express worship and encounter God in different ways while others find that the break from the familiar leaves them floundering.
Part of the problem is that we will never be able to bless everyone’s preferences in any service – all age or otherwise. Another part of the problem is that we can often appear to be ‘dumbing down’ the message to make it accessible to all and some find that this feels patronising. Yet another part of the problem is that sometimes these services are more ‘children’s services’ than ‘all age services’, which leaves many people feeling excluded rather than included.
Of course in an ideal world people would set aside their preferences when they come to worship God. In an ideal world we would be communicating deep truths in a simple way (Jesus did it, after all) and nobody would feel patronised. In an ideal world everyone would be included.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world of choice where we are used to having our preferences satisfied at the press of a remote control or the beep of a supermarket scanner. We live in a complex world that can leave us bewildered as we seek to make sense of countries on the brink of bankruptcy while multi-national companies complain that their quarterly profits (in £billions) are down by 0.5% and simple answers don’t seem to exist. We live in a stratified world where generations have grown up knowing little about the culture or subculture of others and where there are less opportunities for generations to be together other than for the annual argument over Christmas dinner.
Yet that should not stop us from trying. With God’s help we can aim high: seeking to worship God above all else, trying to go deeper in our understanding and experience of God expressed in simplicity, be counter-culturally inclusive of all – not simply tolerant but genuinely Jesus-style inclusivity. And our simplicity should not be pitied, because God is in the business of making the incomprehensible comprehensible. It’s called the incarnation.
And of course, that should not be limited to one service every two months (the frequency in our church), or even every service, but to the whole of our daily workship.
Be blessed, be a blessing.
One Sunday in a polite, middle-class church, a young child was “acting up” during the all age service. The parents did their best to maintain some sense of order in the pew but were losing the battle. They were experiencing hard stares, tuts and sighs from all around.
Finally, the father grabbed the child, tucked him under his arm and strode sternly up the aisle on his way out.
Just before reaching the safety of the entrance area, the little one called loudly to the congregation, “Pray for me! Pray for me!”