Engaging children and families in Advent preparation and the excitement leading up to the birth of Jesus requires little effort on the part of the church. The bigger challenge arrives during Lent, when we no longer wait for the birth of a baby, but instead, we prepare ourselves for the death of a Savior. How do we ask parents to have their children join us in what can seem like a grief vigil? How do we engage children on their level during the season of Lent?
Westlake UMC intentionally set out to do just this. We began with Ash Wednesday when we set up a worship service of stations. The goal of the stations was to enable adults to participate with children of all ages, and to engage them in different activities. At the same time, we wanted adults to walk these same stations and leave with the feeling that Lent had begun. At one station, we asked adults to consider their own mortality by lighting a candle and watching it burn, thinking about the remainder of their life and what God might be calling them to do. At this same station, children were invited to name the youngest person they know and the oldest person they know. They were asked to think about all the things the oldest had done, and what they think the youngest might do.
On Palm Sunday, the Sunday School hour was set aside for a stations of the cross where families and interested adults heard the Passion story from beginning to end. Families received talking points to continue engaging their children in the experience throughout the week.
On Maundy Thursday, we sat at tables and shared a light meal and once again used stations to engage everyone. I witnessed children try foods like hummus, dates, and figs for the first time. (Dates taste like candy according to one child at my table!) One station contained an unglazed communion ware set that everyone could paint with Christian words or symbols. When this set gets used in worship for communion, we hope the children will see a link between the meal Jesus shared with the disciples that we recognize on Maundy Thursday and the meal we share together in worship on a regular basis.
On Good Friday, our chancel choir led us in a Tenebrae Service while the youth performed a shadow play depicting the events of Holy Week. Everyone in attendance felt the black and white scenes of the shadow play gave new depth to the meaning of Good Friday.
Watching people’s reactions to all of these events was beyond words! Families gathered together and talked their way through each event. Older children watched adults to figure out what to do next. Adults were moved to tears as they engaged Lent in a way they had never done before. We are so pleased that we were able to create opportunities for people of all ages to engage in Lent and we look forward to more intergenerational opportunities in the future.
The following article was written by Rev. Lisa M. Straus, Associate Pastor of Westlake UMC