I've had the privilege of serving with Knox Presbyterian Church's Christian Education Committee since the beginning of the year, and of teaching in the "Godly Play" Sunday School Program since before that. Although I'm notoriously bad about learning people's names and using them, I'm starting to get to know the children of Knox pretty well in these capacities. It was therefore a special joy to experience the "Knox Kids Celebration Sunday" at yesterday's worship gathering.
This was hardly the first "Youth Sunday" I've experienced. I've planned and participated in quite a few over the years as a youth, as a youth leader, and as a member of various congregations. But each one is always unique, and there were a few particular elements of yesterday's gathering that I thought were special.
One particularly prominent couple in our congregation brought their two youngest children to be baptized. Both children are in elementary school, and so aren't infants anymore, yet aren't as old as most children I've seen take the step of active membership (that's been around the age of 12, in my experience). While I'm familiar with the concepts behind both "infant baptism" and "believer's baptism" (and am quick to assert that all churches, even those that baptize infants, practice "believer's baptism," since there is always the need to baptize adults that come into the congregation not having been previously baptized), this situation didn't really fit either of those two molds entirely. I was impressed with how the pastor handled this situation liturgically, in that he asked the parents the standard questions used in an "infant baptism" service, but also asked questions of the children themselves as to their desire to follow Jesus. Also, each child was given a candle with instructions to light it each year on the anniversary of their baptism as a remembrance of what God has done for them (my wife tells me that her Episcopalian church does this with their young baptizees, too, but this is the first time I've seen this done in a Presbyterian Church).
Our church has a lot of young children of elementary and pre-school ages, but not very many junior or senior high students at this time. When I've participated in "Youth Sunday" events in the past, one of the high school students has traditionally been asked to give the sermon (sometimes called "reflection" when parishioners--or the students themselves!--are uncomfortable using "sermon" language). Although the part-time pastor in charge of Christian Education did say a few words, the focus really was on the young people as she shared the "pulpit" with several of them (two elementary aged, and one high schooler who has also been a "Godly Play" teacher), where they engaged in a pre-scripted question-and-answer time reflecting on the Scripture passage used for the day in a manner familiar to students of the "Godly Play" format. All three young people handled this time with tremendous poise and confidence, and I'm sure that their parents (who I know did a lot of work in helping their kids prepare for this event) are proud of them.
Of course, we did a number of other worship elements that might be expected in a "Youth Sunday"-type event. A young leader read the Call to Worship, another played the Offertory, a youth choir sang several appropriate songs (including the Jennifer Knapp version of Jesus Loves Me, which is a simply beautiful arrangement that I've loved for years), bibles were given to children graduating from 3rd grade and high school (and a prayer book given to our lone college graduate), and toward the end of the worship gathering, the church also took a moment to recognize those of us who had helped in teaching the children throughout the year, and we were given flowers. I'm not known for my green thumb (in fact, I recently accidentally killed a number of plants I was trying to grow while trying to instead kill the bugs that were starting an infestation). I hope that this plant lasts a little longer, as it really is quite pretty.
I don't like to talk too much about "enjoying" worship gatherings, as if to place the emphasis of worship on what I get out of it. Even so, I have to say that I really did enjoy this particular celebration. I hope that the children participating in it were also encouraged by the experience, and by the comments they no doubt received afterward. I'm hopeful that the intended message: that children aren't just "the future of the church," but they are in fact the church of today, was communicated to all who were present.