Thing One: I read an article a couple of years ago about Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond that took out a few pews in the front of the sanctuary on one side, put in low tables and chairs, and stocked the area with paper, crayons and other art stuff. Elementary-aged children are invited to sit there during the service with their parents. Kids can be a bit more wiggly and, well, kidlike in this area than they can in the pews, but they know this space is different than a classroom or playground. They are learning reverence: they get that this is a space where special things happen. Someone in the article I read described the children as "weathervanes for the Spirit:" they will often be doing their own thing and then something extraordinary will happen in the service (a baptism, a special prayer request) and they will perk up, look around, watch and notice.
You'd think having kids down front would be disruptive---and maybe it is, in some ways---but don't we put up with shrieking hearing aids, people coming in late or leaving to go to the bathroom, the occasional snore or honking nose-blow? Putting kids down front communicates something loud and clear: kids are an important part of worship. And kids learn how to worship---and what it means to be a Christian---from absorbing and experiencing the patterns of community life.
Thing Two: We have this balcony at Tiny Church. It's spacious yet cozy at the same time. There are sloping walls and nice windows that let in sunlight. And our sanctuary is small enough that the balcony is still a part of things. It's also full of all kinds of junk, with perhaps a few treasures thrown in. Ancient lamps, old hymnals missing their covers, musty issues of Interpretation magazine from the 1950s.
Put Thing One and Thing Two together with a lot of hard work, trash bags and some judicious use of Craig's List, and what do you get? The "Upper Room," which will be a kids' space a couple of Sundays a month. Instead of going up to Sunday School every week following the children's time, they will alternate Sunday School with Upper Room time. We hope to invest in excellent art supplies, locked cabinets, and comfortable seating. Kids can hear and absorb what's going on but still have their own space. Like Ginter Park, we hope to cultivate reverence while being hospitable towards our youngest members and guests.
I also envision the Upper Room as a place for smaller services throughout the year--Ash Wednesday, Services for Wholeness and Healing, and so forth, which can sometimes have 15 or fewer people in attendance.
Right now we're in the dreaming/communication/buyin phase, moving quickly to the cleanout/let's-give-it-a-try phase. So far we've had little pushback---even our thriftiest elder agrees that the stuff being stored up there mostly needs to go. But there have been some good questions about whether sound will travel and how it would be "staffed." We'd need adults up there for basic crowd control, which I also like---presto! Informal mentoring/relationship building with folks who might never feel comfortable teaching Sunday School.
One of the things I'm struggling with, though, is how far to take this initially. Other than moving the stuff out of there, there's very little involved in making it basically usable as a kids' space. Doing a bare-bones job means there's almost no risk involved: if it doesn't work, we tweak it some, but if it still doesn't work, we call it a day and move on. (I'm all about agile ministry, remember.)
But I'm also sensing that kids will understand and embrace the space more---and see it as a special thing to be honored and cherished---if we really go the extra distance and make it truly beautiful and fun. I'm talking paint and furnishings.
Thoughts, reactions, suggestions welcome.