You may have noticed that the Church School Schedule begins with “Children’s Chapel: 10.15-10.30am.” That’s right, just 15 minutes, and of course it’s sometimes shorter still. For me, Episcopal worship is a fascinating balance between a spiritual, personal encounter with God, and the structure of the historic form of worship, with its essential roots in the Last Supper (For more on this, come to the All Ages Maundy Thursday service at 5.30pm!), the earliest Christian Communities, the Reformation, the Liturgical renewal movement of the 60’s, and the amazingly rich resources of Christian hymnody.
So, how can we make that 15 minutes meaningful? I focus on four things – the altar, familiar responses, song, and prayer. This week I want to talk about prayer.
We confess not because we are bad people, but because knowing that we have done something wrong separates us from God. “You know how it is”, I say to children, “when you took a toy of your sister’s without asking, and broke it? You feel like you have to avoid her, you can’t look her in the eye.” The relationship is damaged just like the toy got damaged – but you can repair the relationship by saying sorry. And we have this wonderful gift of knowing for a fact that God always forgives us when we say sorry. (Sometimes it’s not quite the same with our siblings!) I always emphasize that although you are welcome to say your confessions out loud, you can also say them in your heart - no one needs to know them but God.
Petition, or asking prayers
When life becomes difficult, when something happens that we cannot control or make right, we take it to God. Every Sunday I ask children what they need to pray for. We pray for the sick – members of the family, friends and schoolmates, and pets. We pray for personal concerns such as homework and tests, parents who are looking for work. We pray for places or people in the news that they have heard and have a connection with, such as the young man missing from Boston College, Franco Garcia, or a natural disaster such as a Tsunami. We often think about how the children, particularly, are affected by such things. At the end of these prayers, I always remind them that we can only ask God to help us and those we pray for – we can’t pray for a happy ending. But God is with us, giving comfort, and helping us through.
Finally, we thank God for all the good things we have. We give thanks for birthdays, for pregnancy and birth, for pets, for the weather, for our homes, our food, warmth, water, and family. It doesn’t take long to realize that there are so many things we have to be thankful for.
One of the gifts of having parents join us for Church School is that they model these prayers themselves. I was very moved last week when the parent who had joined us began by sharing a confession of her own, which led the children to share some of theirs out loud for the first time. And often I share a thanksgiving, perhaps about a new baby, which will set children remembering new babies they have met recently. At the end of each set of prayers I offer a gathering prayer, bringing together all we have prayed for, and maybe finding a common theme. At the end of this I say, “and let the people of God say…and we all reply, AMEN!