Friday, October 19, 2012

The Liturgical Year: 5 (out of 100) Things Your Child Should Know Before they Start Confirmation Class

Just a few weeks ago I sat down with a fresh new group of Confirmation students and their parents to review all of our expectations for the year ahead. I will confess to running a pretty loose ship when it comes to our life together as a Confirmation class. There are just a few things that I expect from them: I expect them to come to class being present in body and spirit. I expect them to do their homework. I expect them to respect me and to respect each other. All pretty easy to swallow.

But I do have one other expectation that is a little more fussy - I expect them to be active participants in our worship life as a congregation during the year of study.
While that seems like a pretty reasonable expectation (at least in my opinion), I know that it is one that pushes some students a little beyond their comfort zone. First, there is the normal anxiety that comes any time someone points out that you have missed church that morning. Many times folks have run into me in the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon and quickly started to explain their absence from church that morning. Second, there is the added time commitment that comes with being in Confirmation Class. If I am going to be at church for 90 minutes in the afternoon, why do I also need to be there for an hour in the morning.

The worship life of a congregation, though, is the place where so much of what we “work on” in Confirmation is actually “worked out” in the life of the church: the Bible, sin and forgiveness, balance between lay and ordained leadership, prayer, mission and stewardship - just to name a few.

We spend time in Confirmation learning more about why we worship the way we do, and in a focused class like this we can learn together the more subtle yet pivotal parts of our worship life that help to shape who we are as Christians, and in my case who we are as Presbyterians.
This is why it is especially helpful for students to come to Confirmation Class already in tune with the rhythms of the church year. Here are the five that are included in my list of the 100 Things Your Child Should KnowBefore They Start Confirmation Class:
The Liturgical Year

81. Advent - a season of holy waiting as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Typically this season is marked with the color blue (though I grew up with purple) and is characterized most vividly for children by the weekly lighting of the four Advent Candles in church or even at home.

82. Lent - another season of preparation as Christians journey to Jerusalem, the Cross, and then Easter, marked by the color purple. In previous generations this was also a time of preparation for baptism of new converts. Lent can also be a time for individuals (including children) to take on a new spiritual practice which may include a form of fasting (like no video games during Lent). This season lasts for 40 days, not counting Sundays.

83. Easter - a 50 day celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many children probably assume that Easter is just a day, but in fact it is an entire liturgical season. Throughout several weeks a congregation moves through multiple stories of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples to celebrate the Resurrection. Typically this season is marked by the color white.

84. Pentecost - the season immediately following Easter that is kicked off by Pentecost Sunday when we remember the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Filled with the Spirit, they proceed to preach in a variety of foreign languages. Peter baptizes an extremely large crowd of new converts. We mark this season with the color red, and frequently refer to it as the birthday of the church.
85. Ordinary Time - and then there is Ordinary Time. Marked by green, Ordinary time fills the weeks between seasons. Sometimes the season between Christmas and Lent is considered “ordinary” though others refer to all of those weeks as the season of Epiphany. Most often Ordinary time lasts through the summer and fall from Pentecost to Advent.

It can actually be pretty easy to teach children about the liturgical seasons, primarily by regularly attending worship throughout the year. Most congregations who follow the liturgical calendar will display visible reminders of the particular season in their worship space. Banners in the appropriate color, colored stoles worn by worship leaders (a sampling of some of mine are pictured above), a notation about the season in the worship bulletin, or even “extra” elements in the worship space such as an Advent wreath.

One of the things that you can regularly do with children in worship is to encourage them to look around the sanctuary on any given Sunday to see if they can figure out what the season is. Children in our church are acutely aware when we are in the season of Lent because of our “extra” worship opportunities during that time, which are supposed to be family-friendly. Even just showing children a colored liturgical calendar can help make the point that just as we move through the seasons of nature, we in the church have changing and cyclical seasons of our own.

My absolute favorite resource for teaching children about the seasons and meaning of the liturgical year is Ruth Boling’s book Come Worship with Me.

I have owned this beautifully illustrated children’s book since long before I had a child of my own. In the book, children are invited to share a year with a very welcoming, reverent and yet enthusiastic community of mice, who relish the movements of the liturgical calendar. I have yet to meet a child who comes away from the book without a firm grasp of the liturgical year.

Ruth has an especially lovely message to parents at the front of this book, which captures for me the joy and the gifts of the liturgical year:
Each season or special holiday of the church emerges from a set of biblical stories, and each focuses our attention on particular truths about God drawn from those stories. As the church year unfolds, truth is layered upon truth. Colors, actions, symbols, words and song combine to evoke the great mysteries of the faith, making them accessible to children of every age.
 - Come Worship with Me: a Journey through the Church Year, Ruth Boling. Geneva Press, 2001.

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