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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

intergenerational worship

Monday, November 13, 2006

I had a conversation this morning with someone about the dreaded 'all-age service' and why it always tends towards the lowest common denominator, which feels far more patronising (to all ages) than genuinely inclusive! My theory on this (for what it's worth) is that the problem lies (once again) on the tendency to reduce 'learning' in the context of worship to rational understanding. If this is all valid learning is, then the only really effective way to do it is through age-specific groups which target their 'teaching' at the intellectual level of the participants in that group. Any attempt at teaching everyone together is likely to feel 'childish' at best!

However, if we see 'learning' as happening through experience as well as rational understanding then we will start to look somewhat more creatively at enabling worship 'experiences' for people of all ages, through which they can make meaningful connections with the God who ultimately does the 'teaching'. This should prompt us to consider the use of space, atmosphere, the human senses, and a whole host of other things too.

Yesterday Jo (my wife) and I took our children to Sanctus 2nds in Manchester, which is creatively seeking to provide an all-age worship experience (an 'intergenerational service' is how they describe it on their web site). There's no doubt that some of what went on there sailed over my three year old's head but connected with my five year old. Some of it sailed past them both and some of it connected with them both (though I dare say in different ways). One of my favourite activities was a painting exercise where we were invited to add our creative mark to a canvas painting, and to use this as a window to reflection and prayer. What was great about it was that my children were able to make their contribution on the same canvas (the first time they've painted on proper artist canvas) alongside the contributions of somewhat more able 'artists', and that all of these contributions were equally valid and went together to make up the final piece of art that was offered in worship later in the service. To me this was an enacted parable of inclusivity and held a key to all-age worship!

By the same token, I was intrigued by the minister who spoke at the beginning of the service and later apologised for not making it 'child-friendly'. I felt like telling him that the all-age inclusivity was held in the space (while he was talking there were activities around the tables for anyone - children or adult - to engage with) and so didn't necessarily need to be held in the talk as well (I didn't tell him this because I hadn't thought it through by then!!) There was plenty for my children to get stuck in to through the stations and other activities, not to mention participation in the Communion, and so it really didn't matter that the 'talk' passed them by. I guess if we're being totally honest, good 'adult' sermons pass a significant proportion of the 'adult' congregation by every Sunday!!

I'm convinced that my children genuinely engaged with God in this act of worship (as did Jo and I), and when I asked them what they thought of the service on the way home they both told me they'd enjoyed themselves! That's a pretty good test of 'all-age worship' if you ask me!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 1:32 PM


Thanks for the constructive feedback malcom! btw for those who weren't there the minister that spoke at the beginning wasn't me!!

commented by Blogger Ben, 2:30 PM  

feeling a bit paranoid ben? ;-p

commented by Blogger LauraHD, 4:43 PM  

Hi it's Ruth
I agree with you. For years in SU I have been expected to do 'all-age worship' and never thought I was doing it well. It became merely entertainment for the kids and the service usually had an organ based hymn at the beginning and end as a token gesture to the oldies who might not like the action choruses. I gave up doing such things about 3 years ago as I felt I was putting on a show and not engaging people in worship. Whern I went to see the 'experts' in action I found that they really didn't do it any more successfully.
Discovering Sanctus 2nd has been part of the answer to my struggles. As you say, the ethos is all inclusive which regardless of whether or not the kids fully understand what is being said, or whether adults really enjoy making things (which actually I think they do!), everyone is involved in learning and bringing worship to God TOGETHER. I love seeing Ben's little boy (1 year old) joining in and seeing his enjoyment, just being there. As an unmarried, non child produing person, I can go to Sanctus with my neice and see her enjoy it (actually she loves it), but equally go on my own and not feel weird for not having children. I am 'me' and fully enagage in all there is. I also love it as there is not an action chorus in sight !!!
(although I have written my own action songs.....)
I have recently joined a group set up by CPAS where we are looking at where 'Intergenerational church' can go in the future. The other members of the group are doing similar stuff, but differently and in different contexts, but I think it is the way forward if we want to see kids in church longer than what is becoming the normal 9 years.
What has been started in Dream is a different approach, but with a similar ethos - all ages engaged in worship, prayer and fellowship together.
Have you read 'Body beautiful?' It's a grove booklet written by Phil Mountsteven from CPAS. It gives a theological framework from intergenerational ministry.
I have no idea why I am typing all this as I will be seeing you next week.
Anyway, that's my response to your post!!!
Ruth from Dream.

commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 10:29 AM  

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