One of the wonderful things about St. Philip’s In The Hills is the variety of worship services offered. These include services at different times of the day on Sunday, mid-week services, and services on special occasions. Because of the location of one of the Sunday services and the population that it serves, you may not yet have attended a “Comfy Space” service. Treat yourself by attending one of these services to see the joy of young children participating (more or less) in a service designed for and by them. Comfy Space services are held on the second Sunday of each month in the Children’s Chapel on the north side of the Children’s Courtyard. The service, affectionately called “a service for those who wiggle in church,” begins at 9:15 a.m., and all are welcome.
Picture a church service that is designed for children from birth through third grade in which they participate along with their parents. Dr. Sandralyn Pierce, Director of Children and Family Ministries, oversees the organization of the monthly service, and I serve as Shepherd (an usher who chooses and guides children, recruited that day to be participants in some part of the service). A special division of the Altar Guild, consisting of Tori Holder and Marj Jorden, makes sure all the implements are in place for the service. Clergy rotate the duty of Celebrant, assisted by one of the Deacons.
The format of the service mirrors the service in the church, but before it begins there is plenty of time for wigglers to play in the courtyard, climb trees, enjoy old friends, and make new ones, while Sandralyn and I are busy recruiting parents to serve as chalice bearers for Communion and children to participate in various parts of the service. The clergy greet children and parents, and the Priest overseeing the service trains parents chosen to be chalice bearers if it is their first time.
As worshipers enter the Children’s Chapel, the main gathering room of the Children’s Center, they are greeted by a child who gives them a piece of paper and a crayon on which they write a special request when the Prayers of the People are read. Rows of chairs are available for seating, but many avail themselves of the carpet squares on the floor.
At 9:15, one of the older children carries the cross as the Crucifer — leading the procession, which consists of the Priest conducting the service, the Deacon, and the chalice bearers. The Deacon begins the service by calling God to come to us with God’s light, God’s word, and God’s love. In response to each of these statements, three different children carry a lighted candle, a Bible, and a cross, which are placed on the altar. All of this occurs while all participants sing a joyous hymn about Comfy Space that has one verse in Spanish. After the welcome from the clergy, and a Collect, one of the older children reads the Gospel for the day.
Many may not know that Sandralyn is a certified puppeteer and has extensive theatrical experience. This background enables her to provide sermons geared to the nature and understanding of young children. Children are encouraged to sit around her on carpet squares to hear her message. They have seen her dressed as “Where’s Waldo,” covered with band-aids when the gospel lesson dealt with healing. She often has something the children can take home to remind them of what they have learned from her sermon. On special days, others are invited to provide the sermon. As Shepherd, I created a costume that enabled me to become St. Nicholas to teach the children about him on his feast day.
Recitation of the Children’s Creed, reading of the Prayers of the People, and exchanging the Peace allows everyone to greet, and then to prepare for Communion.
During the Offertory, the Cherub Choir sings an anthem, under the direction of Natalie Hall. Other children pass offering baskets to those who attend the service, while other children are welcomed to the altar to watch the Deacon “set the table” for communion. After the Eucharistic Prayer, all attendees are welcomed to take Communion from the Priest, the Deacon, and the Chalice Bearers.
The Priest conducting the service recites a final blessing, and the Crucifer leads the procession away from the altar as everyone sings a lively hymn about carrying the blessings of Comfy Space into the coming week.
As you read these paragraphs, you may have noted that the Comfy Space service has the same components as the service in the main church. But what is new, and what you should come to enjoy, is to see a toddler darting here or there among the participants. Or, hearing a spontaneous response from a child during the sermon that brings joy and laughter to all. But most of all, you will see children who are truly engaged in THEIR service, listening to the message of God, and learning how to truly participate in worship.
“Come on in, it’s Comfy Space. Come worship with us.”