As Bishop Bryan recently stood to lead the Eucharistic prayer at Redeemer, every child in our church simultaneously began to scream (only slightly exaggerating). I was a bit embarrassed and concerned for him having to talk over the commotion. As chaotic as it often feels in these situations, the sounds and shuffling of children is a blessing. I was asked to share about my experience thus far.
It is not uncommon to see headlines and statistics regarding decreasing church attendance, aging congregations and the epidemic regarding youth leaving the church. So occasionally we will pause to appreciate the sound of children ringing throughout our congregation—we thank God for these interruptions and acknowledge these moments as a gift. Recently we had a three year old dancing down the aisle as her family came forward for communion. It was angelic and we paused for a moment to catch this earthly glimpse into the heavenlies. On another occasion we had a two year belting out the liturgy just slightly behind everyone else—we stopped and laughed. We were encouraged by the participation by this young worshipper, and reminded that he was lending his voice to the choir of angels and archangels.
Perhaps these brief examples capture a few of the reasons young families are making their way to Redeemer. Asheville is a unique place where people coming to church either have no preconceived ideas of what church should be, or have in some way been put off by what church has become. In our context, traditional programming for children is not as much a priority for parents as it is to have their children loved, prayed for and blessed. It is important that our kids are recognized as full participants in the life of the church…screaming, dancing and clumsy liturgy included. This communicates something to our families, and reorients our thinking about such commotion—moving us from regarding them as a distraction, to receiving it with heartfelt gratitude.
I’ve heard it said that if you want to reach a culture for Christ you must capture their imagination. This is especially true for the younger generation and especially in Asheville (a location with an artistic identity). Our goal is not to lead worshippers to something imaginary, but to come to see things as they truly are. While many find the tradition of the church to be an obstacle, we embrace it as an opportunity—inviting questions, while igniting mystery, curiosity and anticipation. I believe this appeal to imagination will be key as we all seek to reach the next generation for Christ.
The Rev. Gary Ball is Rector of Redeemer Anglican Church in Asheville, NC