The other day my daughters (ages four and six) taught me something important about being open to the Spirit. They were dancing around a sofa-cushion house they had assembled on the floor of the living room. As they skipped in circles, they sang this song:
There’s enough for all if we would learn to share it.
There’s enough for all if we would learn to see.
There’s enough for all;
Let’s bring our loaves and fishes and offer them to Jesus.
There’s more than enough for you and me!
“Enough For All” words and music by Bryan Moyer Suderman. Copyright © 2004, 2005 SmallTall Music (www.smalltallmusic.com). Lyrics printed by permission.
It’s a joyful song and they sang it with abandon. Where had they learned it? At church. Each week in worship, at the time when the Children’s Hymn would normally be sung in some congregations, the children at Guildwood Community Presbyterian in Toronto gather at the front of the sanctuary to sit on the floor with their minister and sing.
For many years I struggled to know what to do with the traditional Children’s Time. I’d never been satisfied with either object lessons or morality stories, and telling the Bible story felt redundant because the children would hear it in Sunday school. So I asked myself: What is the purpose of the children’s time? I decided that what is important is making the children feel at home. I wanted them to experience the grace that the church proclaims; I wanted them to know that they are welcome in worship as they are—wriggly and giggling and ready to play. I decided to replace the Children’s Hymn with Fun with the Young at Heart. Now, each week I pick up my guitar and we sing. We sing songs that are serious and joyful; we clap along and shake and rattle instruments. We sing with our hands, using sign language; we move our bodies in unison; we do our best at singing in languages from all around the world. Above all, we have fun.
Many of us have been taught that worship is a solemn affair: reverent, polite, intellectual. While thought-full worship is a great strength of our Reformed tradition, we have sometimes lost touch with other dimensions of our being. This is where children can lead the way. Most children have no trouble worshipping with their bodies (moving or dancing) or singing loudly (even out of tune!). They have a natural openness and freedom in the way they express themselves to God. Can adults shed their self-consciousness and rediscover their playful side? I believe they can. You see, when I pull out the guitar and teach a playful song to the children, I have noticed that the adults are beginning to participate too. A few brave grown-ups even joined the Palm Sunday parade this year, waving their palm branches and dancing around the sanctuary.
This need not mean that we make abrupt and dramatic changes to our traditional forms of worship. It does mean, however, that every once in a while it is good to loosen up a little. Use art. Work with clay. Decorate the sanctuary with balloons. Sing in another language. Experiencing moments of playful joy in worship (and in our daily lives) could be what Jesus was talking about when he told us to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child does (Luke 18:16–17).
In the church I serve, we still love to sing traditional hymns, but we are growing in our openness to and affection for songs that appeal to the “young-at-heart” in us. One genre with which we have had great success is global worship music. Some excellent resources have been produced in recent years that have made available liturgical music, choral arrangements and congregational songs from many different countries and in many languages. We are drawn to these songs because they are such fun to sing. But there is also an important theological dimension to why we sing global songs: as members of the body of Christ, they remind us that we are connected with our sisters and brothers of other cultures. As we become partners with them in mission and ministry, we receive the gift of their music. As we offer prayers on their behalf on Sunday mornings, we sing their songs—in their languages—as a way of standing in solidarity with them. Singing in another language requires a certain amount of openness on the part of the congregation. We need to let go of our self-consciousness as we stumble over unfamiliar sounds and words. But more often than not our efforts end in laughter and joy—yet another example of how we are called to become a little more playful in our worship.
In ministry, we educators are not often made aware of the fruits of our labours. So I consider it a great gift that I was able to witness my daughters dancing and singing that day in the living room. They were making an important connection between the joy of play, the joy of song, and the joy of worship. I hope they keep that connection alive
Hugh Donnelly loves to hear people sing and is the minister at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church, Toronto.