A blog from the writer of our festival service this year, Andrew Graystone.
The Festival Communion service at Greenbelt 2016 was led from start to finish by children. Let me explain a little of the thinking behind it.
Too often the world views children as innocent angels in need of protection, or else as merely potential adults – Christianity being an entirely adult business! In the secular economy children are viewed as potential units of production. In the church they are often a problem to be solved or scalps to be won. But in the strange and wonderful economy of God, children have exactly the same worth as adults. Just think what that means. If the Kingdom of God were a democracy, children of every age would have an equal vote with adults.
How could this be so? It is because God looks upon and values human beings in an entirely unique way. Under God children can instruct, inspire and lead adults just as much as adults can do those things for children. In fact Jesus gives children a special role in calling-out both the church and the culture. (Already I’m falling into a trap here – that of regarding children as a single group.) God uses children to disciple adults by helping them to look at themselves honestly, and especially by teaching them to laugh, love, play and discern. If anywhere can reflect this, it is Greenbelt. Yet we always find it hard to make it a reality – at Greenbelt, in the church and elsewhere.
The particular gifts that children bring to God’s people are needed now more than ever. Children can encourage and inspire us to recover a sense of joy, playfulness and hope that we so much need.
In order to express this we wanted to make a space where it was possible for children to lead and teach us. This was not to be a children’s service, or even an all-age or child-friendly service. It wasn’t even to be a service about children. Rather, it was a service led by children, and as much as is practical led from a child’s perspective, where we worship God together from that viewpoint.
I can’t see anything in Scripture or elsewhere to stop children from leading liturgy, celebrating communion, praying, reading the Bible…. Of course we have to take steps to make that possible, just as we have to make space and empower other disempowered groups. I would have loved to engage the children more in writing the liturgy – but the constraints of time and the difficulty of working in such a large setting made that impractical. Children need time to practice and discuss what they are doing. So, their parents and guardians worked with me in the weeks before the festival, helping them to do that.
I suspect that if we really allowed children to shape our worship, they would not default to Jesus’ Love is Very Wonderful and Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The Bible passages we used at the service were some of the most difficult we could have chosen. And yet children came up with astonishingly pertinent questions based on them. That’s another great gift they can bring to us – cutting through our nonsense and our ecclesiastical pomposity. Children do not need to be spoken to in words of one syllable, and adults aren’t helped by long words and theological cleverness. I hoped the prayers in the liturgy would stand the test of use by adults as well as children.
Almost all of the liturgy was written especially for Greenbelt (though the first prayer was written by my big brother, Peter.) You are welcome to use any of it in your own context. It’s good practice to acknowledge the author of material we use and share, so where it’s appropriate please add my name at the bottom. If nothing else, that will give you someone else to blame! If you find it useful, or if you want to continue this conversation, I’d be delighted to hear from you on email.
Just one other point…if we discover that we haven’t been engaging children as equals in our churches and Christian lives, it might just be worth asking who else is on the margins of the church, carrying gifts that God wants to give us all?