By: Carol Wehrheim
The Kim family arrived in the sanctuary just as the Call to Worship began. The girls in first and fourth grades sat with their parents until the storyteller called children forward for the Bible story that would be the focus of their Sunday school lesson. Mom knew what it was because she explored it with other parents while the girls were in choir rehearsal on Wednesday. Then they would, as one parent said, “Have a leg up on their children.” On some Sundays this story is also the sermon text. On those Sundays the connection between worship and learning is full circle. But even when the sermon text is not the same, parents who could not attend the Wednesday Bible study have a way to connect with their children’s learning. No more “What was your lesson about today?” Instead, a parent might ask, “What did you think about the dream Joseph had?”
That’s how it works at my church. But there are many ways to connect learning and worship each Sunday. That learning may take place in choir rehearsal of any age or a mid-week program. A confession of faith included in a youth study can be used in worship (and it doesn’t have to be on the day the youth explored it). A litany found in an adult study can be adapted for use in congregational worship. A prayer written by the elementary class can be included in the Prayers of the People. Of course, this takes coordination that includes worship planners and educators. When children are learning about the Lord’s Prayer, move it to the part of worship when children are present if they are not in worship for the whole service. You can think of examples that fit your worship and education opportunities.
Connecting worship and learning is easier when the study is based on the lectionary or follows the seasons of the church year. If the preacher uses the lectionary to plan sermons and curriculum is based on the lectionary, it’s a piece of cake. But don’t let the absence of that stop you. Look for ways that from time to time connect worship and learning. Teach children the responsive call to worship to be used for a season such as the Great Fifty Days of Easter in their church school classes or choir rehearsal time. Plan a sermon series on a Lenten theme and provide opportunities for adults and youth to study the same topic.
So is it worth the effort? Of course it is! When people of any age come with a familiarity with any part of worship they enter into the worship more fully and easily. When children are introduced to the Bible story before their class, you might be surprised how well they already know the story. You see, the reinforcement for nurturing faith and worshiping God works in either direction. Furthermore, when children and youth hear familiar words, especially words they have written, in the worship service, they are learning that they are included in the worshiping community too.
Carol Wehrheim is general editor for Feasting on the Word Curriculum. She regularly helps connect worship and learning at Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.