Dave Walker has written a post asking for inspiration for another of his excellent cartoons - what makes a Family Service?. At the time of writing he has received 25 comments. I started a 26th but deleted it as I realised I was responding angrily to some of the things said; I was shooting the messenger, not the message.
I have just done a Family Service. I am tired and it was rubbish. However, I will keep trying - maybe every Family Service I will ever do will be rubbish, at least according to some of the cynical criteria being peddled in the comments. But why is this?
Broadly speaking in Anglican Churches we have fostered a culture of limited participation; a sort of socially tolerated degree of boredom. Therefore anything one tries to do to engage with children (those who have zero tolerance of boredom) is bound to wind up those who like the status quo. However I do find it hard to deal with snobbery carefully disguised as liturgical sophistication. Look at the typical sorts of congregations formed and shaped by the liturgy (be it traditional or contemporary) we currently use. Elderly and middle-class are two descriptions covering pretty much every Church I've been part of, with one or two notable exceptions - the ones which try to do something which engages the children even if that means cheesy Vicars at the front trying their best to be extrovert and singing action songs or choruses. We see a similar "banging your head on a brick wall" sensation when trying to create any form of response beyond the repetition of words (printed in bold, of course, so we all know to say them together).
Another difficulty with Family Services is their lack of importance. Having previously been in a Church where we were allowed one non-Eucharistic service each month - unless that Sunday happened to fall on a high day or holy day, so once a month became more like twice per quarter. In all things you get what you work for.
This morning was a struggle almost from the start. I decided to challenge the boys to see who could do the most keepy-uppies in Church but none of them felt confident about being up at the front, so thanks to the two Dads who helped me out on that one. A lot of Family Services I see contain an expectation that the children will do something in a way that we would never consider asking a grown up to do, and often the things we do ask the children to participate in are for the grown ups benefit ("come and hold this picture up so everybody can see"). I think we generally misunderstand the spirituality of children so, for example, I do try to include a little bit of silence.
One final point from a comment which I realised was written sarcastically is that yes, there is usually a lot of mess; books on the floor and hassocks used as Lego bricks. If you want to make somebody feel welcome in your home you usually tidy it up and make sure appropriate furniture is available, so why do we tolerate Churches being so un-welcoming?
Worship is not the same as a concert or a poetry recital, just as worship is not the same as children's television.