How does a person build deep faith identity? By being welcomed into the circle, invited to share and know deeply the rhythms, rituals, and sacred spaces of their religious community. This kind of foundational faith development is taught not in a class but by, and throughout, the whole congregation.
Churches often refer to the first Sunday back together again from Summer as “Ingathering”. It’s a special word and a special occasion, a returning of the tribe from all over to the work and fun and worship and learning and music we do in faith community. We say we are a gathered people, and so it was last Sunday as we began putting into practice some of the goals and dreams that arose from our church-wide Visioning for the Future sessions in the Spring. Because a picture really is worth a thousand words, I’m delighted to share snapshots of the ways we came together in worship, classes, and activities at our Ingathering on 9/11.
Gathering in Time For All Ages (TFAA) at the beginning of every service is a change for us this year. It arose from a shared vision of more time together as a family and a congregation, hopes lifted up in the congregational visioning process this Spring. Worship literally means “what we give worth to”: by making room for all ages in our worship service, we demonstrate that we value the experience of shared worship as beneficial to everyone involved. As we begin to consistently share this sacred time and place, in our sanctuary, we tell our kids and families and RE teachers that they too are part of the whole congregation and that there is meaning and learning happening there that’s too important to miss.
TFAA is different qualitatively, too. The “wordy bits” of announcements and greeting of visitors and the worship associate’s sharing have been moved out of the first fifteen minutes, now taking place after the RE community leaves for classes and activities. This creates space, in those brief moments we share each Sunday with our children and youth and teachers, for elements that get straight to the heart of who we are: opening words and chalice lighting (now by a child or youth each Sunday!), a story for all ages or important ritual like teacher covenanting or child dedication, a hymn picked to be one we think accessible to everyone, and a ceremonial sharing of the congregational chalice to the RE and classroom chalices.
And those floor cushions! We wanted to make space for our whole community and for everyone to be comfortable. We also wanted to make a strong visual statement to newcomers about our commitment to making worship welcoming to families and children. The cushions have been well-received, giving young people a great view of what’s happening in worship. We also shared an insert in the order of service sharing our goals and suggestions for people of all ages, to help make this transition a good one. That will become a standard part of the literature available in the pews, as we go forward.